What Is a Cardiac Seizure?

Fact Checked

iParamedics image by JASON WINTER from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Cardiac seizures are caused by the disruption of communication between the heart and the central nervous system. Since proper nerve and brain function are necessary in regulating cardiovascular function, a seizure--either epileptic or stress-related--may temporarily create an arrhythmia or arrest of the heart's normal rhythm. Likewise, a cardiac irregularity may disrupt the blood flow to an area of the brain and create a non-epileptic seizure.


Cardiac seizures may be defined as any cardiovascular disruption that occurs due to a brain or nerve-related anomaly, including brain ischemia, stroke, embolism, epilepsy and other types of brain signal interruptions of communication between the central nervous and cardiovascular systems of the body .

In addition, the term "cardiac seizure" may be used to describe a brain or nerve-related disruption that is caused by an interrupted blood flow to one of several different areas of the brain, due to a cardiac event or disorder. Damage to the cerebral cortex and hippocampus, in particular, may lower a person's seizure threshold, making it more likely that they will experience a seizure.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for a cardiac seizure caused by brain or nerve dysfunction include epilepsy, brain trauma, damage from a stroke, severe psychological stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychogenic disorders such as depression, hallucinations, bipolar disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, or previous physical or emotional traumas, including physical or sexual abuse and head injuries.

Risk factors for a brain or nerve-related seizure that is caused by a cardiac event include cardiovascular injuries, diseases, incidents, failures, surgeries and medications.


Symptoms of a cardiovascular-induced brain or central nervous system seizure may include sudden and involuntary eye, neck, head or limb movements, usually from side to side, screaming, crying, howling, thrusting the hips, arching of the back and neck, tongue biting, locking of the jaw or episodes of sudden violence, including extreme tantrum-like behavior or throwing furniture or other objects.

If someone is experiencing a cardiac seizure that is brain or nerve-related and affects the cardiovascular system, she may have a sudden drop in blood pressure or blood sugar, fainting, pain in one or both arms, dizziness, nausea, chest pain (angina), a headache, neck ache, shoulder pain that radiates into the chest or head, sudden vision problems, difficulty speaking or thinking clearly, one-sided weakness or numbness, swelling of the extremities or memory loss.


If you see someone who seems to be experiencing any of the symptoms associated with a cardiovascular-induced brain or nerve seizure, turn him on his side, if you can, and move any objects away from him. Do not attempt to place anything into his mouth and do not tie or restrain his hands or legs during the seizure. Loosen any restrictive clothing to keep the seizing person from strangling herself accidentally. If you are able, place cushions or soft blankets under or around the person to help cushion any potential injuries he may receive while thrashing or seizing. Call 911, and describe the type of movement that you are observing in the patient, as well as the length of the seizure. Remain near the person until help arrives.

For cardiac-related symptoms, place the patient in a prone position, with his feet and legs elevated. If the patient is conscious, place a baby or adult aspirin in his mouth and provide a small sip of water, if needed, to help him swallow the pill. If the patient has a prior history of cardiac problems, he may have nitroglycerin tablets. If so, place one under his tongue. Call 911 and remain calm while you provide the necessary information.

If the patient appears to have stopped breathing, attempt CPR if you are trained to do so. Press down hard on his chest area a few times, and breath into his mouth after 30 chest compressions. Continue the compressions and resuscitation uninterrupted until help arrives or until the patient begins breathing again.

To treat a person who appears to be experiencing a stroke, lie him down on his side with a pillow or other soft object supporting his head to help relieve blood pressure in the brain and reduce the chance that he might choke on saliva. Call 911 and describe the symptoms that the person is experiencing. If the person is unconscious, be sure there is nothing in his mouth and carefully turn him onto his stomach, placing his arms under his forehead to support his head. Remain with him until help arrives.


In order to distinguish the origin of a heart or brain-related cardiac seizure, the physician may perform several different types of diagnostic tests, including blood tests; a CAT scan or MRI to examine blood vessels, the brain, heart, muscles and circulatory system; an electroencephalogram (EEG) to check brain wave activity; an angiograph or arteriograph to examine the rate of blood flow through the vessels; a transcranial Doppler (TCD) or ultrasound to check the flow of blood through the brain; duplex scans to rule out a potential plaque build-up in the arteries; or an echocardiograph (ECHO), which uses sound waves to provide a picture of the heart.