Seizures Resulting From Brain Tumors

A seizure is often the earliest sign of this diagnosis

Not all people with a brain tumor experience seizures. But for those who do, a seizure is often the first symptom of the disease—and what jump-starts the process that leads to tumor diagnosis. The type of brain tumor and its location factor into why some are more vulnerable to experiencing related seizures than others.

Seizures can be frequent and continue throughout treatment for a brain tumor, which can, among other things, comprise one's independence and overall quality of life. In some cases, seizures can pose additional—and significant—health dangers.

Many think that headaches are often the first symptom of a brain tumor. Headaches are common with brain tumors, but studies show that it is actually a seizure or other neurological symptom that usually appears first.

How Brain Tumors Cause Seizures

When sudden, abnormal electrical impulse activity in the brain occurs, the result is a seizure.

Tumor-related seizures happen because of excessive firing of the neurons in and around the tumor. Neurotransmitter changes, location, type of tumor, genetic factors, and integrity of the blood-brain barrier may all be some of the factors involved.

The frequency of seizures relates to whether a brain tumor is primary or metastatic. Seizures are also more common in people with low-grade gliomas (the most common type of brain tumor in adults) than high-grade types.

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Recognizing a Seizure

Generally speaking, a seizure can cause physical changes such as:

  • Twitching, convulsions
  • Staring
  • Momentary loss of bowel control and incontinence
  • Loss of consciousness

When most people think of a seizure, they usually think of severe tremors and jerking of the body. However, a seizure can be much less severe, causing only the face or leg to shake, for example. Some seizures only cause people to stare blankly for a few minutes.

The severity of brain tumor symptoms is not related to how large a tumor is. Rather, location, tumor type, and grade are key factors in what a person experiences.

This is especially true when it comes to seizures. Someone with a tumor in one part of the brain may experience a different type of seizure (and related symptoms) than someone who has a tumor in another location.

Partial seizures (i.e., those that affect only part of the brain) without loss of consciousness tend to be most common in cases where seizures persist.

Seizures are very serious and should never be ignored or left unreported to a physician. If you suspect that you may have had a seizure and are uncertain, report it to your doctor immediately.

Controlling Seizures in People With Brain Tumors

Whether a person with a brain tumor has had one or 100 seizure episodes, controlling and preventing seizure activity is an essential part of their treatment.

In most cases, the seizures themselves do not pose a great health risk (unless they last for several minutes or more); environmental hazards are of greatest concern.

Seizures don't discriminate and can occur at any time, leading to possible injury of the person seizing and to those around them. There is concern about people seizing during routine activities like driving or bathing. Plus, there is a heightened risk of head injury from falling during an episode.

Medications

Tumor-related seizures may be controlled with anticonvulsants or antiepileptic medications. Due to the high rate of seizure activity among people with some types of brain tumors, the use of these types of drugs is typically standard.

But not everyone requires medication to prevent or control seizures—only patients who meet certain criteria. And still, for many who fit the criteria, seizures can be resistant to medication.

Treating the tumor itself by reducing its size or removing it may be a more effective (and permanent) solution.

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