Seizure is a common symptom in people with brain tumors. For some people, a seizure might be the first clue that something unusual is happening in the brain. Seizures are particularly common with slow-growing gliomas, meningiomas located in the convexity of the brain, and with metastatic brain tumors.
A seizure is an attack caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It lasts only a short period of time and may cause unusual movements, a change in the level or loss of consciousness, and/or sensory distortions. There are many different types of seizures. The type you experience depends on which area of the brain has the abnormal electrical signals.
Below are some of the common features of seizures in patients with brain tumors:
- Sudden onset.
- Loss of consciousness and body tone, followed by twitching and relaxing muscle contractions.
- Loss of control of bodily functions.
- At risk for biting tongue.
- Short periods of no breathing (30 seconds); may turn dusky blue.
- Short duration (2-3 minutes).
- After effects include sleepiness, headache, confusion, sore muscles, brief weakness, or numbness.
About 60% of brain tumor patients will experience seizure at least once during their illness.
A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Normally, your body’s nerve cells communicate with each other via carefully controlled electric signals. If something interferes with these signals and they become more intense, you are likely to have a seizure.
Most seizures occur randomly, at any time, and without any particular cause. However, there may be advance notice. People who regularly have seizures sometimes notice things that may signal an oncoming seizure. This warning is called an “aura.” Auras sometimes take the form of a headache, a change of mood, a muscle twitch, or a particular smell.
Below are some suggestions on what to do when a seizure occurs in patients with brain tumors:
- During a seizure, don’t panic; most seizures end on their own.
- Make sure the patient is breathing.
- Clear the area of sharp objects or anything dangerous. You may want to remove the patient’s glasses.
- Protect the head from being bumped.
- Don’t put anything in the mouth.
- Don’t attempt to restrain the limbs during seizure, as this could cause injury.
After a seizure:
- Try to lay the patient on his side, keeping the airway open.
- Allow time for recovery.
- Help with reorientation; tell your name, where you are, and what happened.
- Encourage the patient to rest until he feels like himself again.
- Ask the doctor if the seizure medication dosage needs to be adjusted.
- Maintain a record of seizure symptoms.
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if:
- the patient stops breathing.
- the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes.
- the patient is injured during the seizure.
- the patient is pregnant or has diabetes.
- the seizure occurs in water.
- a second seizure immediately follows.
Most seizures can be controlled with medicines called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Surgery to remove the tumor may also stop seizure activity. A ketogenic (high fat, low carbohydrate) diet may be used to treat epilepsy (recurrent seizures) in children, particularly if seizure medicines are not effective.
It is not unusual for brain tumor symptoms to change over time. Be sure to discuss any new symptoms or changes in existing symptoms with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible.
Click here to receive an ABTA Seizure First Aid Wall Cling.
It is important to note that the information provided here is basic and does not take the place of an in-person assessment by a physician. If there is any question about the seriousness of seizures or any other symptom experienced, please contact your doctor.