Having a seizure doesn't necessarily mean you have epilepsy. Many conditions have symptoms similar to epilepsy, including first seizures, febrile seizures, nonepileptic events, eclampsia, meningitis, encephalitis, and migraine headaches.
A first seizure is a one-time event that can be brought on by a drug or by anesthesia. These seizures usually don't recur.
Some seizures may occur on their own, without any trigger. In the majority of cases, these seizures won't take place again unless the person has suffered brain damage, or has a family history of epilepsy.
Febrile seizures can occur in a child with a high fever, and usually don't develop into epilepsy. The chances of having another febrile seizure are 25% to 30%. There is a higher risk of seizure recurrence if the child has a family history of epilepsy, some damage to the nervous system before the seizure, or a long or complicated seizure.
Nonepileptic events look like seizures, but actually are not. Conditions that may cause nonepileptic events include narcolepsy (a sleep disorder causing recurrent episodes of sleep during the day), Tourette's syndrome (a neurological condition characterized by vocal and body tics), and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Nonepileptic events that have a psychological basis are known as psychogenic seizures. A person who has this type of seizure may simply be trying to avoid stressful situations or may have a psychiatric problem. Because most people who have these types of seizures don't have epilepsy, they are often treated by psychiatrists and/or other mental health specialists. One way of distinguishing an epileptic seizure with a nonepileptic seizure is through an electroencephalogram (EEG), coupled with video monitoring. The EEG detects abnormal electrical discharges in the brain that are characteristic of epilepsy, and along with video monitoring to capture a seizure on camera,can confirm a diagnosis.
Eclampsia is a dangerous condition suffered by pregnant women. The symptoms include seizures and a sudden rise in blood pressure. A pregnant woman who has an unexpected seizure should be taken to the hospital immediately. After the eclampsia is treated and the baby is delivered, the mother usually will not have any more seizures or develop epilepsy.
Meningitis is an infection that causes swelling of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is most often caused by a virus or bacteria. Viral infections usually clear up without treatment, but bacterial infections are extremely dangerous and can lead to brain damage and even death. Symptoms of meningitis include fever and chills, severe headache, vomiting, and stiff neck.
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain and is usually caused by a viral infection. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, confusion, and stiff neck.
Migraine is a type of headache thought to be caused, in part, by a narrowing of blood vessels in the head and neck, which reduces the flow of blood to the brain. People who have migraines may also have auras and other symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Certain conditions may bring about a migraine, including allergies, menstrual periods, and muscle tension. Some foods, including red wine, chocolate, nuts, caffeine, and peanut butter, can also cause a migraine.
If you have epilepsy and are thinking about getting pregnant, you probably have some important questions. Is it safe for me to get pregnant? Will having epilepsy make it harder for me to conceive? If I do get pregnant, how will I manage my seizures while I'm expecting? Could my antiseizure drugs harm my baby?
Fortunately, most women with epilepsy give birth to normal, healthy babies, if you take precautions, your chance of having a healthy child is greater than 90%.
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SOURCES: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. University of South Florida School of Medicine: ''Psychogenic (Non-Epileptic) Seizures,'' Selim R. Benbadis, MD, and Leanne Heriaud, RN, authors.