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Can Exercise Cause Seizures?

author image Kelli Cooper
Kelli Cooper has been a writer since 2009, specializing in health and fitness. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers University and is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise.
Can Exercise Cause Seizures?
Exercise can actually help epilepsy and will unlikely induce a seizure. Photo Credit Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Seizures result from abnormal electrical activity in the brain; the type of seizure you have will depend on what part of the brain has been affected. A variety of causes can trigger a seizure, such as a reaction to a medication, but most commonly results when you have epilepsy, a condition where you suffer repeated seizures, either due to an inherited problem with the nerve cells in your brain or unidentifiable causes. Exercise does not appear to cause seizures and might actually offer benefits if you suffer from this problem.

Seizure Risk

Neurologist and epilepsy expert Nathan B. Fountain of the University of Virginia says that exercised-induced seizures are very rare and medical literature on the subject only mentions three people who have suffered seizures directly as a result of exercise. He also points to a major study that reported zero cases of exercise-induced seizures in over 15,000 patients over a course of 36 years. Neurologist Steven B. Pacia of New York University says that a small group of epilepsy patients might have an increased risk of exercise causing a seizure due to certain factors but only accounts for probably 10 percent of all sufferers. If you have epilepsy, you should discuss exercise with your doctor so he can offer proper guidance and issue any necessary precautions.

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While the fear of having a seizure might make you reluctant to partake in exercise and other physical activities, know that exercise has been shown to actually benefit epilepsy sufferers in several ways. "Better Health Channel," a website created by the Australian government, says research looking at brain scans of epilepsy sufferers during exercise has shown it decreases abnormal brain wave activity that triggers seizures. Dr. Fountain also notes several studies have shown people experienced fewer seizures during periods of regular exercise. Having a condition such as epilepsy can increase feelings of depression, anxiety and social isolation. Epilepsy sufferers who regularly exercise report an increased sense of general well-being.

Appropriate Exercise

If you have well-controlled seizures, most forms of exercise will prove safe, but you need to take certain precautions regardless. If you have uncontrolled seizures, you might have extra restrictions. You should discuss your activity preferences with your doctor to determine appropriateness. Potentially dangerous activities include contact sports, activities that carry a high risk of falling, solo water sports or swimming, ice skating, ice hockey and high altitude activities.

Staying Safe

If you have just begun exercising and are not sure how you will react, you should refrain from solo activities where no one is around to help you. If you want to go for a run or do some other solo activity, wear a medical alert bracelet so people will know about your condition and tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. While exercise, in and of itself, will unlikely cause a seizure, physical activity can lead to dehydration and low blood sugar, both of which can make a seizure more likely post-exercise. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise. Keep quick-acting carbohydrates handy during exercise and watch for signs of low blood sugar such as headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, agitation and hunger. Do not push yourself too hard -- fatigue can also increase your risk of a seizure, as can lack of sleep and elevated body temperature.

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