Managing seizures

A brain tumour or its treatment can sometimes cause seizures, which are disruptions to the normal patterns of electrical impulses in the brain. They may also be called fits or convulsions.

Seizures can often be prevented with anticonvulsant medicines (also called anti-epileptic or anti-seizure medicines). You can also reduce your seizure risk by making sure you don’t get too tired or fatigued.

Generalised seizures

These types of seizures typically affect the whole body. The most common type is called a tonic-clonic seizure (previously known as a grand mal seizure). A seizure often starts with a sudden cry, followed by the person falling down and losing consciousness. The person’s muscles may twitch violently and their breathing may be shallow for up to two minutes. They may lose bladder and bowel control, and bite their tongue.

Partial seizures

These affect one part of the body, such as an arm or leg. Symptoms include twitching; jerking; tingling or numbness; and altered sensations (hallucinations), such as changed vision or hearing, strange tastes or smells, or a feeling of deja vu. Partial seizures may cause a brief loss of consciousness, changes in memory loss just before, during and after the seizure.

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Ways to help someone having a seizure

  • Remain calm and stay with the person while they are having a seizure, but do notrestrain them or put anything in their mouth.
  • Protect the person from injury (e.g. move hazards, lower them to the floor if possible, loosen clothing, place a soft pillow under their head and shoulders).
  • Lie the person on their side to clear their airway after jerking stops. This is particularly important if the person has vomited, is unconscious or has food or fluid in their mouth.
  • Call 000 for an ambulance if it is the first seizure the person has had; if the person is injured; if there was food or water in the person’s mouth; if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes; or if you are in any doubt.
  • Observe the person until they have recovered or the ambulance arrives. Time how long the seizure lasts so you can tell the paramedics.
  • Talk to the person and explain what has occurred. In many cases, people are confused after a seizure.
  • If the seizure occurs while a person is in a wheelchair or car, support their head and leave them safely strapped in their seat until the seizure is over. Afterwards, remove the person from their seat, if possible. Roll them onto their side if there is food, water or vomit in their mouth.
  • Allow the person to rest afterwards as most seizures are exhausting.
  • For detailed information and an online tool for creating a Seizure Management Plan, visit Epilepsy Action Australia or call 1300 37 45 37.

Anticonvulsant medicines

There are many types of anticonvulsant drugs, which are used to prevent seizures. You may require blood tests while you are taking anticonvulsants. This is to check whether the dose is effective and how your liver is coping with the medicine.

Side effects of anticonvulsant drugs vary, but they may include tiredness, gum problems, shakes (tremors), nausea, vomiting, weight changes, depression, irritability and aggression. If you are allergic to the medicine, you may get a rash. Tell your medical team if you have any skin changes or other side effects. Your doctor can adjust the dose or try another anticonvulsant. Do not stop taking the medicine or change the dose without your doctor’s advice.

If you are taking anticonvulsants, you may need to avoid eating grapefruit and Seville oranges, and check with your doctor before taking any herbal medicines, as these can change the way some anticonvulsants work. You should also limit your alcohol intake.

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This information was last reviewed in April 2018
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