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What causes seizures? 77 possible conditions


Seizures are changes in the brain’s electrical activity. This can cause dramatic, noticeable symptoms or even no symptoms at all. The symptoms of a severe seizure are often widely recognized, including violent shaking and loss of control. However, mild seizures can also be a sign of a significant medical problem, so recognizing them is important. Because some seizures can lead to injury or be evidence of an underlying medical condition, it is important to seek treatment if you experience them.

What Are the Types of Seizures?

Several different seizure types exist. One example is non-epileptic seizures, which result from injury. This includes a blow to the head or an illness. When the condition is treated, the seizures go away.

Partial seizures are associated with epilepsy, a condition that causes repeated seizures. This seizure type happens on only one side of the brain. As a result, one side of the body is affected during a seizure. Other names for partial seizures include focal, Jacksonian, and temporal lobe seizures.

Generalized seizures take place on both sides of the brain. This seizure type affects both sides of the body. This includes the grand mal or tonic-clonic seizure, which is most associated with epilepsy.

Petit mal seizures are another generalized seizure example. Also known as absence seizures, these seizures have few physical symptoms but may involve a person staring off into space for several seconds. The person’s attention cannot be captured during this time.

What Are the Symptoms of a Seizure?

You can experience both partial and generalized seizures at the same time or one can precede the other. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes per episode.

Some seizures occur with warning signs before the seizure takes place. These include:

  • sudden feelings of fear or anxiousness
  • feeling sick to your stomach
  • dizziness
  • changes in vision

Seizure symptoms, such as the following, take place after these symptoms and indicate a seizure in progress:

  • a blackout of time, followed by confusion
  • uncontrollable muscle spasms
  • drooling or frothing at the mouth
  • falling
  • experiencing a strange taste in your mouth
  • clenching teeth
  • sudden, rapid eye movements
  • making unusual noises, such as grunting
  • losing control of bladder or bowel function
  • sudden mood changes

What Causes the Condition?

Seizures can stem from a number of health conditions. Anything that affects the body also may disturb the brain and lead to a seizure. Some examples include:

  • alcohol withdrawal
  • bites and/or stings
  • brain infection, such as meningitis
  • brain injury during childbirth
  • brain defect present at birth
  • choking
  • drug abuse
  • drug withdrawals
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • electric shock
  • epilepsy
  • extremely high blood pressure
  • fever
  • head trauma
  • kidney or liver failure
  • low blood glucose levels
  • stroke

Seizures can run in families. Notify your physician if you or anyone in your family has a history of seizures.

In some instances, especially with young children, there may be no known seizure cause.

What Are the Effects of Seizures?

If left untreated, seizures can worsen in terms of symptoms and become progressively longer in duration.

Extremely long seizures can lead to coma or death.

Seizures also can lead to injury, such as falls or trauma to the body if convulsions are involved. For this reason, it is important for those with epilepsy to wear a medical identification that helps emergency responders identify that person.

A person who experiences seizures also should notify friends and family of how to care for the person while a seizure is occurring. This includes taking steps to reduce the risk of injury like cushioning your head, loosening tight clothing, and turning you on your side if vomiting occurs.

How Are Seizures Diagnosed?

Physicians can have a difficult time diagnosing seizure types. Your doctor may suggest many tests to accurately diagnose a seizure to ensure treatment recommendations will be effective.

Your doctor will consider your full medical history and the events leading up to the seizure. For example, conditions such as migraine headaches, sleep disorders, and extreme psychological stress can cause seizure-like symptoms.

Lab tests may help to further rule out other conditions that can cause seizure-like activity. These include:

  • blood testing to check for electrolyte imbalances
  • spinal tap to rule out infection
  • toxicology screening to test for drugs, poisons, or toxins

An electroencephalography or EEG test can help a physician diagnose a seizure. These tests measure your brain waves. Viewing brain waves during a seizure can help a physician diagnose the seizure type.

Imaging scans such as a CT scan or MRI scan also can help by providing a clear picture of the brain, allowing your doctor to see any abnormalities like blocked blood flow or a tumor.

How Is the Condition Prevented?

In many instances, a seizure cannot be prevented. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can give you the best chance at reducing your risk. This includes getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.

Engaging in stress-reducing techniques may help to reduce seizures. You also should refrain from taking illegal drugs.

If you are on medication for epilepsy or other medical conditions, be sure to take them as directed to prevent seizures.

How Is the Condition Treated?

The area around a person should be cleared during a seizure to prevent possible injury. The person should be placed on his or her side with the head cushioned.

Stay with the person and contact emergency responders as soon as possible if the seizure lasts longer than two to five minutes, if the person does not awaken after the seizure, or if he or she experiences repeat seizures.

Treatments for seizures vary based upon the seizure’s cause. By treating the cause of the seizures, you may be able to prevent future seizures from occurring.

If the seizures are due to epilepsy, treatments include:

  • medications
  • surgery to correct brain abnormalities
  • nerve stimulation
  • special diet, known as a ketogenic diet

With regular treatment, those with epilepsy can experience a reduction or cessation of seizure symptoms.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Epilepsy Overview

Epilepsy is a neurological condition caused by malfunctioning brain cells that result in seizures. There is no cure for this disorder but episodes can become less frequent.

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Head Injury

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Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure

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A generalized tonic-clonic seizure, sometimes called a grand mal seizure, is a disturbance in the functioning of both sides of your brain. This disturbance sends out electrical signals to your muscles, nerves, o...

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Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium

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Intracranial Hemorrhages

Intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) is bleeding inside the skull. It is a life-threatening emergency. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing ICH, go to the emergency room right away or call 911. There are fou...

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Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of muscle movement and coordination caused by an injury to a child's brain that occurs before birth or during infancy. It affects the part of the brain that controls body movement. Othe...

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Usually it occurs after an impact to your head or after a whiplash-type injury. A concussion can cause many severe symptoms that affect brain function.

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Brain Hypoxia

Brain hypoxia, also called cerebral hypoxia, is decreased oxygen in the brain. You are at risk for this condition if you are drowning, choking, suffocating, or in cardiac arrest.

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Low Blood Sodium (Hyponatremia)

Low blood sodium, or hyponatremia, occurs when water and sodium are out of balance in your body. A quick drop in sodium levels can cause weakness, headache, nausea, and muscle cramps.

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Skull Fractures

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A skull fracture is any break in the cranial bone, or the skull. It can result in bleeding, bruising, pain, and swelling. Less severe symptoms include headache, nausea, confusion, and blurred vision.

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Brain Cancer

Brain cancer is an overgrowth of cells in the brain that form masses called tumors. Cancerous (malignant) brain tumors tend to grow very quickly, disrupting body functions. They can be life threatening. However, brai...

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Malignant Hypertension (Arteriolar Nephrosclerosis)

This form of high blood pressure comes on very quickly and requires immediate medical help. You're especially at risk if you already have hypertension or smoke.

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Amphetamine Dependence

Amphetamines are a type of stimulant and can be highly addictive. Consistent amphetamine dependence can lead to overdose, brain damage, and even death.

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Heat Emergencies

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Heat emergencies are health crises caused by exposure to hot weather and sun. Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages are serious.

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Subarachnoid hemorrhage

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

This life-threatening hemorrhage involves bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover it. If you experience an extreme headache, a popping sound in your head, seizures, and other symptoms, seek immediate help.

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Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

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Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar can be a dangerous condition. Hypoglycemia is rare in people who are not suffering from diabetes, the chronic disease that affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar...

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Brain Aneurysm

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An aneurysm in the brain is a weak area in an artery in the brain that bulges out and fills with blood. It can be unpredictable and life-threatening, and can cause extremely serious conditions.

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Intracerebral Hemorrhage

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Intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) is when blood suddenly bursts into brain tissue, causing damage to the brain. Symptoms usually appear suddenly during ICH.

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Subdural Hematoma

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A subdural hematoma occurs when blood collects on your brain's surface beneath the skull. They usually result from a head injury.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.