What is a Seizure?

A seizure is a sign of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can have many causes, such as high fever, a blow to the head, lack of oxygen, or poisoning. Some people have just one seizure. When a person has seizures that happen more than once, this is called epilepsy, or a seizure disorder.

What are Symptoms of a Seizure?

The symptoms of a seizure may include:

  • Violent, uncontrolled shaking (convulsions)
  • Brief stares
  • Muscle spasms
  • Episodes of automatic behavior and altered consciousness

If You’ve Had a Seizure

If you have had a seizure, you should seek medical help. Your doctor will try to determine:

  • Was the seizure caused by a short-term problem (like fever or infection) that can be corrected?
  • Was it caused by a continuing problem in the way your brain’s electrical system works?
  • Is there anything about the structure of your brain that could cause seizures?
  • Was the seizure an isolated event? If not, does it mean that you have epilepsy?

The doctor will try to find the answers to these questions. He or she will ask a lot of questions about your health now and in the past. You will get a thorough physical exam, especially of the nervous system.

Your doctor may order several different tests to help determine the nature of the problem. These may include:

  • Lab tests of blood and other body fluids
  • EEG (electroencephalogram) test
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans

Treatment for Seizures

After making a diagnosis, your doctor will decide on the best form of treatment. Some seizures may be caused by a condition that can be corrected, such as a tumor. Some tumors can be removed safely through surgery. If the tumor is removed, the seizures will probably not return.

If the condition cannot be corrected and seizures continue to occur, your doctor may diagnose epilepsy. Doctors usually prescribe regular use of drugs that prevent seizures. More than 20 medicines are available to treat epilepsy.

If the medicine does not prevent the seizures, your doctor may try other treatments. These may include surgery, a special diet, or VNS (vagus nerve stimulation). A vagus nerve stimulator is a small device that is implanted into the chest and neck. The device sends electrical signals to the brain. The signals help reduce the number of seizures and their strength.

The goal of all epilepsy treatment is to prevent future seizures, avoid side effects, and make it possible for you to lead a normal, active life.

For More Information

For more information about seizures, visit the University of Pittsburgh's Epilepsy Division website at  

Other Resources

Epilepsy Foundation of Western/Central Pennsylvania
1501 Reedsdale Street, Suite 3002
Pittsburgh, PA 15233
Telephone: 412-322-5880 or 1-800-361-5885
Fax: 412-322-7885

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |