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.
Learn more about:
- Generalised seizures
- Focal seizures
- Ways to prevent seizures
- Ways to help someone having a seizure
- Anticonvulsant medicines
Seizures can be divided into two main groups:
These occur when the whole brain is affected, and typically involve 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 loss of consciousness. The person’s muscles may stiffen, their limbs may jerk rhythmically, and their breathing may be shallow for up to two minutes. They may bite their tongue, and lose bladder and bowel control.
Also called partial seizures, these occur when one area (lobe) of the brain is affected. The seizure affects one part of the body, such as an arm or leg. The symptoms depend on the area of the brain involved. They may include twitching; jerking; tingling or numbness; and altered sensations, 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 mood, and memory loss just before, during and after the seizure.
Ways to prevent seizures
Seizures can often be prevented with anticonvulsant medicines (also called anti-epileptic or anti-seizure medicines). Fatigue, or feeling very tired, can also increase your risk of having a seizure. Try to get enough sleep, and avoid daytime naps if they make sleeping at night difficult. Limiting or cutting down on alcohol may also help.
- Remain calm and stay with the person while they are having a seizure. If they have one, refer to their Seizure Management Plan.
- Do not hold them down or put anything in their mouth.
- Protect the person from injury (e.g. move hazards, lower them to the floor if possible, loosen clothing, cushion their head and shoulders).
- 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 fluid in the person’s mouth; if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes; or if you are unsure what to do.
- Time how long the seizure lasts so you can tell the paramedics.
- After the jerking stops, roll the person onto their side to keep their airway clear. This is particularly important if the person has vomited, is unconscious or has food or fluid in their mouth.
- Watch the person until they have recovered, or the ambulance arrives.
- If the seizure occurs while the 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, fluid or vomit in their mouth.
- Talk to the person and explain what has occurred. In many cases, people are confused after a seizure.
- Allow the person to rest afterwards as most seizures are exhausting.
- For detailed information and an online tool for creating a Seizure Management Plan, contact Epilepsy Action Australia on 1300 37 45 37.
Many different types of anticonvulsant drugs are used to prevent seizures. You may need to have 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 treatment 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 particular foods. Check with your doctor before taking any herbal medicines, as these can change the way some anticonvulsants work. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about potential interactions.|
A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Macquarie University Hospital, NSW; Dr Lucy Gately, Medical Oncologist, Oncology Clinics Victoria, and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, VIC; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; Scott Jones, Consumer; Anne King, Neurology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Health Department, WA; Dr Toni Lindsay, Senior Clinical Psychologist and Allied Health Manager, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Elissa McVey, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Claire Phillips, Deputy Director, Radiation Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment