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New-Onset Seizure in Adults

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is a burst of electrical activity in your brain. A seizure may start in one part of your brain, or both sides may be affected. The seizure may last a few seconds or up to 5 minutes. A new-onset seizure is a seizure that happens for the first time. You have a higher risk for another seizure within the next 2 years.

What causes a seizure?

The cause of your seizure may not be known. Any of the following may cause a seizure:

  • A brain tumor or head trauma
  • A stroke
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Drug or alcohol overdose or withdrawal
  • Eclampsia
  • Fever or infection
  • An electrolyte imbalance or low blood sugar

What are the signs and symptoms of a seizure?

You may have symptoms before the seizure starts. This is called an aura. Examples include dizziness, anxiety, or flashing bright lights. You may have symptoms of one type of a seizure or a combination of different types:

  • A generalized seizure may affect both sides of the brain. After you have a generalized seizure you may have a headache or feel irritable. The following are different types of generalized seizures:
    • A tonic, clonic, or tonic-clonic seizure usually involves the whole body. A clonic seizure involves jerking body movements. A tonic seizure involves stiffening of the body. A tonic-clonic seizure is a combination of clonic and tonic seizures. It is also called a grand mal seizure. You may lose consciousness, or your eyes may roll up and back into your head. You may also sweat all over your body.
    • A myoclonic seizure involves a sudden jerk of all or part of your body.
    • An atonic seizure is usually brief and causes a sudden loss of posture. You may fall suddenly to the ground.
    • An absence seizure is also known as a petit mal seizure. You will not be aware of your surroundings. You may stare blankly into space. You will not pay attention to anything happening around you. Your eyes may flutter or blink repeatedly, and you may smack your lips. You may have several absence seizures throughout a day.
    • An atypical absence seizure looks like an absence seizure, but with repetitive behaviors. Examples include eye opening and closing, eyes rolling outward or inward, and body stiffening.
  • A partial seizure may affect one part of the brain. The symptoms may depend on where in the brain the abnormal activity is happening. It may be simple or complex. A simple partial seizure may not cause you to be less awake or alert. A complex partial seizure may cause you to be less awake or alert. Both types may cause jerky muscle movements, confusion, hallucinations, sweating, or repetitive behaviors.

How is a seizure diagnosed?

Bring someone with you who saw you have a seizure. The person can describe what happened during your seizure, how long it lasted, and how you acted after. Tell your healthcare provider about any family history of seizures and any recent illness or trauma. The provider will examine you and check your neuro signs. Neuro signs show healthcare providers how well your brain is working. If the neuro checks are abnormal, you may need more tests.

How is a seizure treated?

Treatment will depend on the cause of your seizure. You may need medicine to prevent another seizure. Medicine may also be given to treat the cause of a seizure, such as antibiotics for an infection.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to manage or prevent a seizure?

  • Manage stress. Stress can trigger a seizure. Exercise can help you reduce stress. Talk to your healthcare provider about exercise that is safe for you. Other ways to manage stress include yoga, meditation, and biofeedback. Illness can be a form of stress. Eat a variety of healthy foods and drink plenty of liquids during an illness.
  • Set a regular sleep schedule. A lack of sleep can trigger a seizure. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. Keep your bedroom quiet and dark. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are having trouble sleeping.
  • Manage other medical conditions. Manage other health conditions that may increase your risk for a seizure. Keep your blood sugar levels and blood pressure under control.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Alcohol can trigger a seizure, especially if you drink a large amount at one time. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 1½ ounces of liquor, or 5 ounces of wine. Talk to your healthcare provider about a safe amount of alcohol for you. Your provider may recommend that you do not drink any alcohol. Tell him or her if you need help to quit drinking.
  • Ask what safety precautions you should take. Talk with your healthcare provider about driving. You may not be able to drive until you are seizure-free for a period of time. You will need to check the law where you live. Also talk to your healthcare provider about swimming and bathing. You may drown or develop life-threatening heart or lung damage if you have a seizure in water.
  • Tell your friends, family members, and coworkers that you had a seizure. Give them written instructions to follow if you have another seizure.

What do I need to know about stopping my medicine?

Your healthcare provider can help you understand and make decisions about continuing or stopping antiseizure medicines. You may need to be seizure free for 18 to 24 months before you can stop your medicine. Seizures might happen again while you stop taking the medicine, or after you stop. Rarely, these seizures no longer respond to medicines. Tests such as an EEG may be useful in helping you and your provider make medicine decisions.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone else call for any of the following:

  • Your seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • You have a second seizure that happens within 24 hours of your first.
  • You have trouble breathing after a seizure.
  • You cannot be woken after your seizure.
  • You have more than 1 seizure before you are fully awake or aware.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You are injured during a seizure.
  • You have a fever.
  • You are planning to get pregnant or are currently pregnant.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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