Seizures are often a complex disorder with a variety of symptoms and challenges in everyday life. While seizures and seizure activity may have a direct effect on the body, they also affect a patient’s overall quality of life. It is daunting to face the injuries, depression, social isolation, unemployment, reduced driving privileges and so much more. The medical community is shifting from the focus of treating the patient’s seizures toward treating the whole patient, so they can enjoy a better quality of life.
Effects of Seizures on the Brain
Seizures often cause specific changes in the brain due to a loss of cells, which lead to a decline in memory activity. This is often due to a decrease in neurons within the temporal lobe, especially in the hippocampal formation. In fact, many patients show a marked decline in memory function over time due to these declining numbers of cells.
Other changes in the brain may lead to a permanent change in personality and seizures in the temporal lobe. These changes may lead to loss of sex drive, over-bearing tendencies, single-minded conversation habits, anxiety over every day events, and a decrease in spontaneous activities.
Injuries Sustained During Seizure Activity
Most injuries that occur during a seizure are the result of a patient being harmed by hazardous items that are around them or situations that pose risks.
- Falls are common in seizure patients, which could lead to head injuries or, in some cases, broken bones. Epileptics are at twice the risk for broken bones than the general population.
- Smokers are at risk if they experience a seizure while smoking. They can rub a lit cigarette against their skin and suffer burns or even drop the cigarette and start a fire. The lack of consciousness and sensation during a seizure makes them very vulnerable, especially if they are alone at the time.
- Heat burns may occur during cooking if their hands are on hot dishes, stoves, or a fire.
- In parts of the country where temperatures get extremely high such as Arizona, Texas, etc., patients who fall on the ground during a seizure can suffer serious burns from lying on the incredibly hot pavement.
- Other injuries that may occur during tonic-clonic seizures include drowning, injuries while using power tool and falls from ladders and other high places.
- When a patient driving a motorized vehicle has a seizure, the results can be extremely serious accidents that result in severe injuries or even death.
Neuropsychological Effects of Seizure
The side effects of seizures vary by person. Over time, patients with chronic seizure activity may see a decrease in functioning memory. The person may become depressed due to the chronic nature of these disorders. Some people experience social isolation due to personality changes that occur over time. These issues may be compounded in those with left temporal lobe involvement, leading to higher suicide rates in these individuals. Psychosis may also occur in some patients and this is particular true during the postictal state. There is no good estimate for the number of patients who experience these symptoms since no studies have been conducted. However, patients experiencing these issues may show symptoms that mimic paranoia and schizophrenia. Some patients experience hallucinations or delusions. Religious ideation has been reported because of these effects in the postictal period.
Effects of Treatment
Long-term use of seizure medications may also have major effects on the body. Due to the sedating side effects of many anticonvulsant drugs, patients frequently report cloudy or foggy thinking. Dull or slowed thinking may lead patients to be less compliant with their medications due to the bothersome side effects. The pharmacological effects of Phenobarbital or Primidone can induce depression and increase the risk of suicide in patients who are treated with these drugs. Patients treated with Vigabatrin may also experience not only these symptoms, but psychosis as well. In contrast, Topirimate may cloud the mind, induce irritable moods, and lead to language difficulties, specifically in word recall.
Quality of Life for Seizure Patients
Recently, seizure treatment has branched out from merely focusing on seizure control. Now, physicians are focusing more heavily on their patient’s overall quality of life. Many areas of life can be improved for seizure sufferers including being free from seizure activity, regaining driving privileges, gaining employment, success in academics, reduced school or work absences, sharper thinking, less social isolation, and reduced depression. In addition, referrals are being made earlier for those who are good candidates for surgery. Surgery can reduce the side effects of medication and proactively prevent damage to the brain due to chronic seizure activity.
While seizures can affect every aspect of your life, with proper treatment a patient may be able to gain a quality of life. Many patients are reporting reduced seizure frequency, reduced absences from school or work, and better seizure control through appropriate drugs or surgical procedures. However, the effects on the body are intense for many patients. If you have been experiencing seizure symptoms or are concerned that your seizures are not controlled well enough, it is important to see your doctor. Together you can work toward finding solutions that better treat your unique condition and start to give you a better quality of life.
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