Epilepsy Triggers Causes Signs

What is epilepsy? Epilepsy is a neurological disorder. Neurons are responsible for processing and sending information via electrochemical signals in the brain. In a person with epilepsy, these neurons can produce irregular signals simultaneously and much more rapidly than normal. This provokes a seizure.

Epilepsy Symptoms Related to Seizures

Although convulsive seizures and loss of consciousness are the most widely known epilepsy symptoms, there are many lesser-known signs of epilepsy. Epilepsy usually involves sudden, noticeable changes in movement and/or behavior. Most people with epilepsy tend to experience the same type of seizure, so the symptoms of epilepsy will likely be the same every time.

Seizures normally last between a few seconds and a few minutes. Seizure symptoms depend on the type of seizure a person experiences. Partial, or “focal” seizures only affect part of the brain, and may or may not result in a loss of consciousness. Generalized seizures affect the entire brain and always result in a loss of consciousness. Generally speaking, during a seizure, an individual may experience one or more of the following:

Altered emotions, sights, smells, feelings, tastes or sounds (depending on which area of the brain is affected) Blank staring Confusion Convulsions Loss of consciousness Quick, jerky movements Repetitive motions (such as lip smacking, hand rubbing or wandering aimlessly) Sudden collapse.

Because partial seizures do not always result in a loss of consciousness, a very brief seizure that lasts only a few seconds may be very difficult to detect.

Other Signs of Epilepsy

Epilepsy tends to be associated with a variety of other disorders. If an individual with one of these pre-existing conditions experiences some of the epilepsy symptoms outlined above, it may indicate that they are having a seizure. Some of these conditions include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Behavioral problems (hyperactivity, irritability, lack of concentration, etc.)
  • Brain tumors
  • Development disorders (autism, cerebral palsy, neurofibromatosis, etc.)
  • Family history of epilepsy
  • Head injuries
  • Heart attacks
  • Mental retardation
  • Mood disorders (anxiety, depression, etc.)
  • Serious illness (AIDS, meningitis and other infections)
  • Stroke.

Events Often Mistaken for Epilepsy

Because the signs of epilepsy are so varied, it is a very difficult disorder to diagnose. There are a number of other medical conditions that can exhibit the same symptoms as epilepsy, which can lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. These include:

  • Breath holding attacks
  • Cardiac events
  • Concussions
  • Daydreaming
  • Dizzy spells
  • Drop attacks (sudden collapse)
  • Fainting spells
  • Febrile convulsions (infant fits induced by high fever)
  • Migraines
  • Movement disorders
  • Non-epileptic seizures
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep disorders
  • Transient ischaemic attacks (known as “mini-strokes”).

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Although epilepsy is not diagnosed until an individual has experienced at least two unprovoked seizures, the Mayo Foundation for Education and Research advises individuals to seek medical attention after experiencing their first seizure to determine whether a serious condition, such as epilepsy, exists.


Epilepsy Action Staff. (n.d.) Epilepsy explained. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from the Epilepsy Action Web site: http://www.epilepsy.org.au/epilepsy_explained4.asp.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research Staff. (2009). Epilepsy symptoms. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/epilepsy/DS00342/DSECTION=symptoms.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Staff. (n.d.) Seizures and epilepsy: Hope through research. Retrieved March 11, 2010, from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web site: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm.