Seizures are caused by an electrical disturbance in the brain, which is sometimes referred to as an “electrical storm”. For those who have experienced a seizure, you might know that they are unpredictable, can come and go, last as little as a few seconds up to a few minutes, and that you might experience similar symptoms before the seizure starts.
Many different types of seizures exist. They range in severity and vary based on where they start in the brain. The most common cause of seizures is epilepsy, but they can also happen as a result of underlying medical conditions such as stroke, lack of sleep, low blood sodium, traumatic head injury, high fever caused by meningitis or other infections, or other illnesses. In many cases, the cause of a seizure is unknown.
There are two peak periods during which the onset of seizures is most likely: one is in childhood and one is after the age of 65. For older adults, stroke is the most common cause of new-onset seizures. Other conditions that affect brain function, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and trauma, such as that from a fall, can also lead to seizures in those 65 and older. Since some seizure warning signs in older adults can be mistaken for dementia, knowing what the symptoms are is very important.
What Are the Warning Signs of Seizures?
Some people experience an “aura”, or warning, before a seizure. It’s considered to be the first symptom of a seizure. An aura is often described as a change in feeling, sensation, thought, or behavior. If you have more than one seizure, you might have a similar aura each time. Other warning signs of seizures include:
Changes in Your Thoughts or Feelings
- Strange, negative, or scary feelings, like fear or panic
- Odd, indescribable feelings
- Racing thoughts
- Thinking your body looks or feels different
- Out-of-body sensations
- Daydreaming episodes
Changes in the Body
- Feeling hot, cold or sweaty
- Looking pale or flushed
- Elevated heartbeat
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Changes in the Senses
- Headache or body pain
- Numbness, tingling or feeling like an electric shock sensation in your body
- Unusual smells, sounds, or tastes
- Vision loss, blurry vision
- Unexplained confusion or feeling “spacey”
- Hearing loss
- Unusual tastes or smells
What to Do if You Have Seizure Warning Signs
If you are experiencing any warning signs of seizures, it’s important to keep a log of what symptoms occur, noting the time of day along with the date. It’s also a good idea to note how any medications, especially new ones, affect these symptoms. Keep track of any seizure triggers as well, such as days you didn’t get enough sleep, were stressed or drank alcohol.
Share this information regularly with your doctor or medical team. Ask if the symptoms are actually seizures, and find out whether any follow-up testing is required.
As you get to know your own seizure warning signs, use this information to help you prepare and stay safe. At the onset of symptoms, get yourself into a safe place, get in contact with a trusted family member or friend to let them know what’s going on, and follow your seizure action plans, such as taking prescribed medications or other intervention measures.
Are There Seizure Alert Devices?
A medical alert system, also known as a personal emergency response system (PERS), can act as a seizure alert device to help you contact 9-1-1 and your loved ones if you are having a seizure or are experiencing seizure symptoms.
Since falls can be both a symptom and a cause of seizures, look for a model with built-in fall detection technology, which can sense a fall and contact an emergency operator instantly, even when you’re unable to do so on your own.
These devices can also be used at the onset of seizure warning signs, to alert your family and get in touch with emergency dispatch at the touch of a button.
Another feature to look for is GPS functionality, which works to identify your location even when you’re not at home, so you can get 24/7 help wherever you are.
Having a medical alert device can make for a more comprehensive seizure action plan, and can help you feel more secure, no matter when—or where—seizure warning signs hit.