What could happen to you after a seizure depends on what areas of the brain were affected. Here's what you need to know so you can be prepared and proactive.
Abnormal electrical activity in the brain leads to seizures. Afterward, any symptoms — headache, disorientation, fatigue or loss of bowel and bladder control — will depend on the areas of the brain that was affected. But there's the potential for other consequences, too.
When you or a loved one has a history of seizures, it’s important to take extra precautions when planning activities.
Talk with your doctor about your regular routine and planned recreational activities to see if there are safeguards that may offer protection. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recommends staying hydrated, avoiding overexertion and paying attention to blood sugar levels to help reduce your risk for seizures 2.
Read more: Early Warning Signs of a Seizure
Antiseizure Medication Side Effects
These drugs may be part of the treatment plan for preventing further episodes, but they can come with their own set of consequences. According to the NINDS, these include mood changes such as worsening (or improving) depression, allergic reactions, damage to liver or damage to bone marrow. Additionally, some antiseizure medications may make other drugs, such as contraceptives, less effective.
“Generally, the side effects are much less severe and much less common with the medications than with the seizures,” says Dr. Rider, “and there are many medicines with much fewer short-term and long-term side effects.” Work with your doctor to find the best options for you.
Depression and Anxiety
One in three people with epilepsy, a health condition associated with many types of seizure, experience some amount of depression, often with accompanying anxiety, according to NINDS. Let your doctor know if you’re not feeling like yourself. There are steps you can take to deal with feelings and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Treatment is the same as it is for people who don’t have seizures — therapy and medication as needed. Joining a support group for people living with seizures may also help. You’ll meet others with similar experiences, and you may find the group to be a safe place to share your feelings as you navigate life with these emotions and the seizures themselves.
A potentially life-threatening condition, status epilepticus is a prolonged seizure (lasting longer than five minutes) or a spate of recurring seizures from which you don’t fully regain consciousness between episodes, according to the NINDS. Such seizures may not resolve on their own, leading to brain injury, which is why immediate medical care is necessary, NINDS explains.
Symptoms of status epilepticus may be convulsions, but these seizures can also occur with no external signs. Nonconvulsive status epilepticus is diagnosed by an EEG and may involve an extended period of confusion, irritability or unconsciousness.
Read more: Seizure With Stroke Like Symptoms
Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP)
“The most ominous side effect of seizures is death,” says Dr. Rider. “There is a seizure-related event called sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, or SUDEP. Patients undergoing active medicine treatment for their seizures, typically with medications, are at a much lower risk of this rare complication.”
Approximately one SUDEP death occurs for every 1,000 people with epilepsy, according to the NINDS. The causes of this phenomenon are not fully understood, but people with hard-to-control seizures appear to have a higher risk. Not taking medications as prescribed and drinking alcohol may also increase the risk for SUDEP.
Additionally, some people with epilepsy can have cardiac arrhythmias as a result of their seizures, notes Dr. Rider 3. According to a review published in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, certain types of arrhythmias, called postictal arrhythmias, which occur after convulsive seizures, are often associated with SUDEP 3.
Such seizures may not resolve on their own, leading to brain injury, which is why immediate medical care is necessary, NINDS explains. “If [a person has] a seizure and falls, they can have injury to any part of their body that can lead to permanent loss of function or impairment of functioning, such as a broken limb or spinal fracture,” explains Steven Rider, MD, a neurologist at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. A potentially life-threatening condition, status epilepticus is a prolonged seizure (lasting longer than five minutes) or a spate of recurring seizures from which you don’t fully regain consciousness between episodes, according to the NINDS.