Seizures are uncontrolled bursts of brain activity that can cause involuntary movements or changes in consciousness. In rare cases, they cause brain damage. However, most seizures do not harm the brain.

Seizures are neurological events where a sudden surge of electrical activity occurs in the brain. Seizures can cause a range of symptoms, including uncontrolled limb movement, staring blankly into space, and fluttering of the eyes. Some seizures also start with an aura, which is a series of sensory disturbances that indicate a seizure is coming.

There are different types of seizures, and epilepsy is the most common cause. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures due to underlying changes in the pattern of electrical brain activity. However, seizures can also occur without epilepsy. For example, someone may experience a seizure after a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Each seizure episode can potentially lead to permanent alterations in the brain’s electrical activity. Brain injury typically refers to lasting structural or functional damage to the brain. Brain injuries may cause a range of problems, such as difficulty talking.

This article discusses whether seizures can cause brain damage and how else they may affect the brain.

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Some types of seizures, such as those with a short duration, rarely cause additional brain injuries. However, other types can cause a range of injuries. This may depend on factors such as the type of seizure, how long it lasts, where it occurs, and if it develops into an emergency.

Additionally, it is worth noting that as well as potential brain injury, seizures can also result in physical injuries.

Seizures are the result of surges in brain activity that typically return to usual after a brief period. There are many different types of seizures. Health experts typically classify them into three major groups depending on where the seizure begins. These are:

  • generalized onset seizures
  • focal onset seizures
  • unknown onset seizures

A tonic-clonic seizure, previously known as a grand mal seizure, is a common type of seizure that can cause the person to experience uncontrolled physical movements and lose consciousness for several minutes. They may experience some temporary symptoms while the brain recovers, such as memory loss or confusion.

However, status epilepticus is a continuous, prolonged seizure or series of seizures without recovery that may damage the brain. Status epilepticus is rare and refers to a seizure lasting longer than 5 minutes or a person having multiple seizures within 5 minutes. Immediate medical attention is necessary to stop these seizures and reduce the risk of damage.

Seizures may have several impacts on the brain:

  • Neurological damage: Chronic seizures can cause the loss of brain cells or affect communication between brain cells. These changes affect how the brain functions and can cause impairments, such as in comprehension.
  • Kindling: This term refers to how experiencing a seizure may promote a tendency to have more seizures. As such, this highlights the importance of good seizure control.
  • Structural changes: Recurring seizures may lead to changes in the brain’s physical structure. For example, temporal lobe epilepsy can cause damage to the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory and pattern recognition.
  • Brain age: Brain aging refers to the biological changes that occur in the brain due to aging. Some seizures can accelerate the process of brain aging. For example, temporal epilepsy causes people to have some features of brain degeneration that resemble the degeneration that can occur with aging.

Brain damage can occur in any region of the brain, which means it may have a wide range of signs and symptoms. For example, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons states that signs of serious brain injury include:

  • Pain: This includes persistent headaches.
  • Motor problems: This can be difficulties controlling movements or balancing.
  • Sensory: There may be changes in hearing, vision, or other senses.
  • Cognitive: A person can experience problems remembering or paying attention.
  • Speech: An individual may have difficulty speaking, including trouble finding the right words or expressing themselves.

Early detection and intervention for these symptoms can prevent further complications. In some cases, someone may require long-term care to manage their symptoms.

Some frequently asked questions on this topic include:

What is a seizure?

Seizures are sudden disturbances in the brain’s electrical activity. Epilepsy is a condition that can cause recurrent seizures, but people who do not have epilepsy may also experience a seizure.

Which occurs first, seizures or brain injury?

Both seizures or brain injuries can occur first. TBI, or other types of brain damage, may cause a seizure. On rare occasions, repeated or persistent seizures can also cause brain damage.

Does the type of epilepsy play a role?

There are many types of seizures. They occur at different frequencies and intensities, which have an impact on their long-term treatment and complications, including brain damage. Frequent seizures, or seizures with a longer duration, are more likely to cause injury.

Seizures are surges in electrical activity in the brain, which have a tendency to recur in epilepsy. Most seizures do not cause lasting damage. However, frequent or long seizures can cause damage to brain cells in rare cases. These types of seizures are known as status epilepticus and require immediate medical care.

Brain damage occurs in many ways depending on which region it affects. For example, a person may experience problems remembering or speaking. Seizures can cause the death of brain cells or damage connections between them.