Seizure Disorders - Adult



Seizures happen because of abnormal brain activity. For many people, it is not known why this happens. Some known causes are:

  • Stroke
  • Head trauma
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Diseases that get worse over time, such as Alzheimer disease
  • Brain damage
  • Brain tumors
  • Infections, such as bacterial meningitis
  • Genetic problems
  • Problems with the immune system

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of seizure disorder are:

  • Cerebrovascular disease in older adults
  • Parasitic diseases, such as malaria or cysticercosis
  • Alcohol use disorder



Symptoms depend on the type of seizures that a person has.

Generalized seizures may cause:

  • Eye blinking or staring into space
  • Crying out
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Falling to the ground
  • Muscle jerking or spasms
  • Feelings of tiredness after the seizure has ended

Partial seizures may cause:

  • Muscle twitching
  • Sensing a strange taste or smell
  • Confusion or a dazed feeling
  • Inability to respond to questions or directions


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. An appointment with a doctor who treats the nervous system and brain may be needed.

Brain activity may be tested. This can be done with an electroencephalogram (EEG). Images of the brain may be taken with:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)



The goals of treatment are stop seizures from happening. This may mean treating an underlying cause or avoiding triggers.


Anti-seizure medicines may be given. More than one may be needed. It may take some time to find the right medicine and dose.

Implanted Devices

Devices can help disrupt signals that cause seizures. They are placed just under the skin and attached to the brain or a large nerve. The devices may be used alone or with medicine. Implanted devices include:

  • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)—implanted in the chest to stimulate the vagus nerve to decrease seizures
  • Responsive nerve stimulator (RNS)—implanted in the brain to detect and stop seizures
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS)—implanted in the brain and attached to a device implanted in the chest to stop signals that trigger a seizure

Ketogenic Diet

A ketogenic diet is a strict diet that is low in carbohydrates and rich in fats. For some people, this diet may reduce seizures. It is not known why it helps.

This diet is very strict and may be hard to stick to. Other low carbohydrate diets like Atkins or low glycemic diet may help some.

Avoiding Triggers

Learning and avoiding triggers can help some people with their seizures. Triggers can differ from person to person. Some common triggers are:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Flashing bright lights
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Drug use
  • Stress


Surgery may be done for seizures that are not helped by medicine. The area that is causing the seizures will be removed or destroyed. This is only an option if the seizures start in one specific spot in the brain.


Most seizure disorders cannot be prevented.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.