(BPT) – Seizure. You’ve heard the word before, but do you know what it means or why a seizure occurs? Seizures are caused when there is abnormal activity in the brain. Brain cells called neurons use electrical energy to convey messages to one another, and when this electricity goes awry, a seizure can occur. For some people, a seizure is a one-time event but the risk of a second seizure often exists, and experiencing one is more common than you may think.
Millions of Americans experience a first seizure every year, and one in 10 people worldwide will experience a first seizure in their lifetime. Experiencing a seizure can be frightening, and the victim may feel confused or lose the ability to communicate. There is also the potential for physical damage and injury due to muscle spasms or falls, and in rare cases death can occur.
To avoid experiencing a second seizure and its negative effects, proper treatment of the first seizure remains essential. To this end, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society have released a new guideline based on the best available evidence for identifying risk factors for and determining whether to treat a first, unprovoked seizure in order to ward off a second.
Identifying risk factors
According to the guideline, a person’s risk of experiencing a second seizure in his or her lifetime depends on several factors, including his or her background and health history. Research shows that the risk of experiencing a second seizure is greatest within two years of experiencing the first and, depending on health history and other considerations, this risk can be anywhere from 21 to 45 percent.
Risk factors that increase the probability of a second seizure include pre-existing brain problems caused by a head injury, stroke or brain tumor, or having EEG test results that show signs of epilepsy. Some research also shows that people who experience their first seizure during sleep or who show significant abnormalities on brain imaging tests are also at higher risk.
Preventing the second seizure by treating the first
The research finds that epilepsy drugs remain one of the most effective ways to manage seizures. The prescription use of these drugs immediately after a person has experienced his or her first seizure is effective in reducing the risk of another seizure within two years. For neurologists, doctors who diagnose and treat diseases of the brain, spine and nerves, the decision to treat immediately may become more complex due to a person’s applicable risks and benefits. The new guideline offers clarification for doctors, helping them identify which risk factors put a person at greater risk so they can make the best treatment decision together with their patient.
For people who have experienced a first seizure or who care for a loved one who has, speaking with a physician such as a neurologist about treatment options is an important first step. Neurologists can help you understand and learn more about epilepsy drugs and your risk factors so you can work together to identify the best treatment plan and minimize your risks.
To learn more about this AAN guideline and other available resources, visit AAN.com/guidelines.