Epilepsy - what to ask your doctor - adult
What to ask your doctor about epilepsy - adult; Seizures - what to ask your doctor - adult; Seizure - what to ask your doctor
You have epilepsy. People with epilepsy have seizures. A seizure is a sudden brief change in the electrical activity in your brain. It leads to brief unconsciousness and uncontrollable body movements.
Below are questions you may want to ask your health care provider to help you take care of yourself.
Having a brain seizure can be a terrifying experience. If you have a seizure more than once, you may have epilepsy, a problem with electrical activity in your brain. So, what causes epilepsy? For most people, the brain sends electrical signals throughout the body efficiently, in a coordinated way. In epilepsy, however, the normal pattern of electrical activity becomes disturbed. This causes the brain to be too excitable, or jumpy, and it sends out abnormal signals. The result is repeated seizures that can happen at any time. Epilepsy seizures usually begin between ages 5 and 20, but they can happen at any age. Common causes include Stroke, or a mini-stroke called transient ischemic attack; Dementia, or loss of brain function, such as Alzheimer's disease; Traumatic brain injury; Infections in the brain; Brain problems you are born with; or perhaps, a Brain tumor. Some people with epilepsy may have simple staring spells, while others have violent, uncontrollable shaking and loss of consciousness. Before each seizure, some people may have strange sensations, such as tingling, smelling an odor that isn't really there, or emotional changes. This is called an aura. Your doctor will perform a number of tests to find out if epilepsy is causing your seizures. One test, an electroencephalogram or EEG, checks your brain's electrical activity. Other tests can take detailed pictures of the part of your brain that is causing your seizures. Your doctor will most likely start treating your epilepsy with medication. These medicines, called anticonvulsants, may reduce the number of seizures you have in the future. Sometimes, changing the diet of a child with epilepsy can help prevent seizures. Your doctor will probably talk to you about making some changes in your life, such as reducing your stress, getting more sleep, and avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs. Surgery to remove a brain tumor or abnormal blood vessels or brain cells may make the seizures stop. Another surgery can place a Vagus nerve stimulator in your brain. This device is like a pacemaker for your brain that limits the number of seizures you have. For many people, epilepsy is a lifelong problem, and they'll always need to take anti-seizure medicines. There is a very low risk of sudden death with epilepsy. However, you, or someone else, can be seriously injured if you have a seizure while driving or operating equipment. If your seizures are uncontrolled, you should not drive.
Should I call you, or someone else, every time I have a seizure?
What safety measures do I need to take at home to prevent injuries when I have a seizure?
Is it OK for me to drive? Where can I call to find more information about driving and epilepsy?
What should I discuss with my boss at work about my epilepsy?
- Are there work activities that I should avoid?
- Will I need to rest during the day?
- Will I need to take medicines during the work day?
Are there any sports activities that I should not do? Do I need to wear a helmet for any type of activities?
Do I need to wear a medical alert bracelet?
- Who else should know about my epilepsy?
- Is it ever OK for me to be alone?
What do I need to know about my seizure medicines?
- What medicines am I taking? What are the side effects?
- Can I take antibiotics or other medicines also? How about acetaminophen (Tylenol), vitamins, herbal remedies? Will birth control pills still work if I am taking medicines for my seizures?
- What are the risks with these medicines if I were to get pregnant?
- How should I store the seizure medicines?
- What happens if I miss one or more doses?
- Can I ever stop taking a seizure medicine if there are side effects?
- Can I drink alcohol with my medicines?
How often do I need to see the provider? When do I need blood tests?
What should I do if I am having trouble sleeping at night?
What are the signs that my epilepsy is becoming worse?
What should others with me do when I am having a seizure? After the seizure is over, what should they do? When should they call the provider? When should we call 911 or the local emergency number?
Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 100.
Epilepsy Foundation website. Living with epilepsy.
Last reviewed on: 11/4/2020
Reviewed by: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, FAAN, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.