For those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be more than occasional disturbances produced by your brain's impulses. They can cause complications that may have serious, long-term health repercussions. While some of these complications vary according to the type of seizures you experience, certain complications apply to anyone who is diagnosed with epilepsy.
Cognitive and Behavioral Complications
Complications affecting your cognitive and behavioral functioning generally stem from complex partial seizures. According to the Neurology Channel, these seizures affect the limbic structure in your brain. This structure is responsible for emotions and motivation. When areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus and hypothalamus, become damaged over time due to seizure activity, cognitive and behavioral complications result.
You or others around you may notice a change in your personality. You may lose your sense of humor, be quick to anger or become extremely emotional. You may even experience an increase or decrease in your sex drive. If someone attempts to restrain you during a seizure to prevent you from harming yourself, you may become hostile or violent. Memory loss may also occur. This is typically short term and affects your ability to remember words or names as you are speaking.
Injuries are common complications of tonic-clonic seizures, also known as grand mal seizures. During these episodes, epileptics lose consciousness and may fall to the floor if not in a safe position when the seizure begins. Their entire body stiffens and shakes uncontrollably until the seizure ends. Because of what occurs during this type of seizure, aspiration is a possible complication. This may occur if you vomit during your episode and the secretions enter your lungs.
You may also bite your tongue, lips or the inside of your cheeks when your jaw clamps together. In addition, you could suffer from a multitude of broken bones, the most severe being a fractured skull from falling during the seizure's onset.
Epileptics are at an increased risk for accidents versus those who are not diagnosed with this condition. Perhaps the most dangerous are car accidents. If you lose consciousness while driving, the results could be fatal for both you and other drivers on the road.
Drowning is another accident, or complication, of seizures. The Mayo Clinic states that epileptics are more than 15 times more likely to drown than those without epilepsy. Again, it all comes down to losing consciousness while in the water, especially if swimming by yourself.
Status epilepticus is a condition that describes an epileptic who has a seizure continuously for a period of five minutes or more. It also pertains to those who have recurring seizures without regaining consciousness in between. When either of these situations occurs, the epileptic is at greater risk for brain damage or even death.
Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy
Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is a complication for which there is no concrete cause. According to the Mayo Clinic in 2009, this complication occurs in less than one out of every 1,000 people with epilepsy and is more prevalent among those whose seizures are not controlled with medication.
The Neurology Channel adds that fluid buildup in the lungs, irregular heartbeats and suffocation may be to blame for the sudden death that occurs among otherwise healthy people with epilepsy. The site also states that patients taking two or more anticonvulsants and those who abuse street drugs appear to be at greater risk.