If you ask the average person what they think an epileptic seizure looks like, most will describe a type of violent, uncontrollable convulsion. While some seizures do involve convulsions, a seizure is not always the same thing as a convulsion.
Sometimes, an epileptic seizure may just be “blanking out,” or staring intensely for several seconds at a time. These “little” seizures, sometimes known as petit mal seizures, can occur a few times a week or literally dozens of times a day.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, epileptic seizures can include any number of things, such as uncontrolled movements like blinking or jerking, or sudden, inexplicable strong emotions, such as fear. Seizures can trigger strange sensory experiences such as hissing, buzzing, or ringing sounds, or unpleasant tastes or smells, or can even distort vision in sometimes frightening ways where sizes and shapes seem to move or change. Seizures can also affect memory, causing not only memory lapses, but also sometimes disturbing visions of people and places from the past. Many seizures are accompanied by sudden nausea, or an odd, “rising” feeling in the stomach.
“Some seizures can just be periods of dizziness,” said Batool F. Kirmani, M.D., director of the Scott & White Epilepsy Center.
Dr. Kirmani believes the common misconception that epileptic seizures always involve convulsions is one of the main reasons epilepsy often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. In fact, Dr. Kirmani said that many patients who are having convulsive seizures (also known as tonic-clonic seizures), could have been having non-convulsive types of seizures for years, which is not an uncommon occurrence in children with epilepsy.
“They may have had memory lapses and staring spells that started when they were kids,” Kirmani said, “but nobody paid attention until years later when they started having tonic-clonic seizures.”
The Epilepsy Center at Scott & White, which is a member of the National Association of Epilepsy Centers, is uniquely prepared to diagnose and treat all types of epilepsy. The Epilepsy Center provides both inpatient and outpatient diagnostic evaluations and offers options for the appropriate course of treatment, including possible surgical intervention. The center is equipped with long-term epilepsy monitoring beds, each with a 24-hour video EEG monitoring system. The Epilepsy Monitoring Unit features single-patient rooms, each with a fully computerized digital recording system monitored by nurses with specialized training in epilepsy and EEG technicians. The center even provides special EEG monitoring equipment that can monitor seizures from the patient’s home.
During National Epilepsy Awareness Month in November, the Epilepsy Center at Scott & White hopes to help increase awareness about the signs and symptoms of epilepsy, as well as the services available to help treat and control seizures. For more information about epilepsy, including links and resources, visit www.epilepsyfoundation.org.