A brain tumour or its treatment can sometimes cause seizures (also called fits or convulsions). A seizure is a disruption to the normal patterns of electrical impulses in the brain.
Learn more about:
- Generalised seizures
- Focal seizures
- Ways to prevent seizures
- Ways to help someone having a seizure
- Anticonvulsant medicines
- Video: Anticonvulsant medicines for brain cancer
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. Focal seizures affect one part of the body, such as an arm or leg.
Symptoms of focal seizures depend on the area of the brain involved. They may include twitching; jerking; tingling or numbness; loss of speech; and altered sensations, such as changed vision or hearing, strange tastes or smells, or a feeling of deja vu. Focal seizures may also 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. Limiting alcohol may also help.
- Remain calm and stay with the person while they are having a seizure. Refer to their Seizure Management Plan, if they have one.
- 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 Triple Zero (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 of 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.
- Explain to the person 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.
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 working 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 and foods to avoid.
Video: Anticonvulsant medicines for brain cancer
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
A/Prof Lindy Jeffree, Neurosurgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Emma Daly, Neuro-oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cabrini Health, VIC; A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Victorian Gamma Knife Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Department of Neurosurgery, Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Beth Doggett, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; A/Prof Eng-Siew Koh, Radiation Oncologist, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Andy Stokes, Consumer.
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