Complications of Seizure Disorders

Wednesday 10 March 2021
Seizure Disorders

Table of Contents


I. Understanding Seizures

II. Aspiration

III. Shoulder Dislocation

IV. Car Accidents

V. Drowning

VI. Pregnancy & Epilepsy


Understanding Seizures

Seizures can be an extremely distressing event for the person experiencing the seizure and for those around them. If you have two or more seizures within 24 hours without an identifiable cause, you may have epilepsy. Its underlying cause determines the type of epilepsy.

Symptoms of seizures can be mild to severe, including:

  • Temporary confusion
  • A staring spell
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fear, anxiety, or deja vu
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms or legs 

Your doctor will determine the cause of your seizure or epilepsy disorder. These symptoms can significantly disrupt your everyday life, so you may be prescribed anticonvulsant medications like Dilantin (phenytoin), Keppra (levetiracetam), Lamictal (lamotrigine), or Topamax (topiramate). If you are diagnosed with epilepsy, it is essential to follow your treatment plan to prevent complications. Read on to learn more about possible complications that may arise if you have a seizure disorder. [1]

Aspiration

If you suffer from seizures, you are more likely to aspirate food, liquid, or other materials. Aspiration is characterized as the drawing in or out of a substance by suction. This can occur when someone is eating or drinking something and suffers a seizure. When a seizure begins, you cannot activate your normal reflexes, which increases your risk of aspiration.

a person drinking out of a soda bottle

Normally, the body prevents you from inhaling food or liquid into the lungs, but it can cause respiratory disease or other deadly consequences if you experience aspiration during a seizure. This is why it is important to turn a person over onto their side to avoid aspiration during a seizure. Aspiration pneumonia can occur when there is food or liquid in the lungs, causing inflammation, infection, or airway obstruction. [2]

You may be experiencing aspiration if you have the following symptoms:

  • Pain when swallowing
  • Coughing or wheezing after eating
  • Too much saliva
  • Chest discomfort or heartburn
  • Feeling congested after eating or drinking
  • Having a wet-sounding voice after eating or drinking [3] 

Shoulder Dislocation

Those who suffer from seizures are at a higher risk of suffering a shoulder dislocation. This does not occur with every type of seizure, but if you have convulsions and fall to the ground, you may dislocate your shoulder. These are fairly rare events, but it is essential to be wary of this possible complication.

If you are experiencing a seizure, your friends or family around you may lay you on your side to prevent shoulder dislocation. If you do fall and hurt your body, you may create large bony abnormalities or suffer head injuries, increasing your susceptibility to future seizures. [4]

Car Accidents

Performing everyday activities can become dangerous if you have epilepsy. If you are diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor may advise against driving to prevent accidents behind the wheel. In the United States, you have to be seizure-free for three to 12 months before being permitted to drive.

a photo of an overturned car

If a seizure comes on while driving, you may lose control of your vehicle, putting you and everyone else on the road in danger. Not being able to drive is a huge hindrance to a person’s social and work life, so you may want to research public transit in your area to make sure your daily life is not affected by your epilepsy diagnosis. [2]

Drowning

Those with epilepsy are at an increased risk of drowning. The terrifying part of seizures is the inability to predict when a seizure will occur. This can make normal activities like swimming a dangerous practice, so it is essential to be cognizant of the possible risks. If you take your medications and are aware of the warning signs of an impending seizure, you should be able to avoid having a seizure while in a body of water.

It is essential for epilepsy patients and their caregivers to take the proper steps to avoid any potential tragedy. If you have active epilepsy, you may want to shower instead of taking baths and take your medications regularly. If you want to go for a swim, do not go alone and have some supervision to prevent a drowning incident. [5]

Pregnancy & Epilepsy

Having epilepsy can come with many complications, and patients may think having children is an impossibility. This is not the case, but special care should be taken during pregnancy. Some anticonvulsant drugs may cause infertility and reduce the effectiveness of some hormonal birth control methods, so talk to your doctor if you are planning on becoming pregnant. 

a pregnant woman with a dog at her feet

If you have frequent seizures, your doctor may recommend waiting to become pregnant until your epilepsy is better controlled. If your seizures are well-controlled, you should still see your healthcare provider to ensure your pregnancy progresses well and your epilepsy symptoms are not worsening. If you do have a seizure during pregnancy, some dangerous complications can occur, including:

  • Preterm labor
  • Premature birth
  • Fetal injury (placental abruption) or miscarriage due to trauma from a fall during a seizure
  • Decreased oxygen to the fetus
  • Slow fetal heart rate 

If you have not had a seizure at least nine months before you conceive, you are less likely to have a seizure during your pregnancy. Typically, it is safest to continue your medication routine during pregnancy, and your doctor will tailor your dosage to reduce any possible side effects during pregnancy. [6]

If you are worried about the complications of your epilepsy disorder, talk to your doctor about possible ways to prevent injury to yourself and others. Sticking to your treatment plan and taking Dilantin (phenytoin), Keppra (levetiracetam), Lamictal (lamotrigine), or Topamax (topiramate) as prescribed can reduce your risk of complications.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.