9 Complications of Epilepsy

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By John Fuller on November 21, 2022
  • Unseen young woman on ground after seizure or fainting with older woman holding her head and hand to help
    Epilepsy: The Dangers of Seizures and More
    Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system in which normal brain cell activity becomes disrupted, leading to seizures. In addition to seizures that can result in the loss of consciousness or awareness, epilepsy increases the risk of several additional complications. Here’s what epilepsy patients, family members, and caretakers should know.
  • Patient in arm sling
    1. Injuries
    Seizure symptoms vary among epileptics—some people may stare blankly for a few moments, while others may experience twitching arms and legs. The loss of consciousness brought on by an epileptic seizure can make it easy to fall over, causing injury.
  • hand of unidentified woman turning key in car ignition
    2. Car Accidents
    If you’re driving and lose consciousness or control due to a seizure, the likelihood of a dangerous car accident increases. At the same time, some medications used to treat seizures can cause drowsiness. Many states place restrictions on drivers with epilepsy, requiring patients to be seizure-free for a certain number of months (or even years) before getting a driver’s license.
  • swimming-pool
    3. Drowning
    Because of the sudden nature of seizures, people with epilepsy are 15 to 19 times more likely to drown while swimming than people without the disorder. If you have epilepsy, avoid swimming and other water sports unless you have an experienced companion who can assist you.
  • Young Caucasian woman at desk with headache, migraine, stress or fatigue
    4. Medication Side Effects
    Like most drugs, epilepsy medications can come with a variety of side effects. One of the most common side effects is drowsiness, which can negatively affect daily life. Other potential side effects include rash or severe bruising, nausea, and fever. In some rare cases, epilepsy medication may actually cause more frequent seizures. Alternate treatments may be available. Speak with your doctor about adjusting your medication plan if symptoms make life difficult for you.
  • black woman in thought
    5. Psychological Problems
    People with epilepsy are more likely to experience emotional problems, including depression and anxiety. Although psychological issues may be present regardless of the condition, the difficulties of dealing with epilepsy are a common factor leading to depression.
  • Doctor giving pregnant woman prescription medicine
    6. Pregnancy Dangers
    The inherent dangers of seizures make pregnancy even more complicated for expectant mothers with epilepsy. Additionally, some anti-epileptic medications may increase the risk of birth defects. While most women with epilepsy are able to have healthy children, talk to your doctor about your plans to ensure a safe pregnancy.
  • surgery
    7. Surgical Complications
    When epilepsy is drug-resistant, some patients may turn to surgical treatment, particularly brain surgery. Like any neurological operation, there are risks involved with removing small amounts of brain tissue. While many epilepsy patients can live a normal life after successful surgery, a small percentage may experience minor complications or even fatal problems.
  • surgeon and radiologist viewing digital brain scan in hospital
    8. Permanent Brain Damage
    A specific condition called status epilepticus occurs when you experience a seizure for more than five minutes at a time, or if you have several seizures in a row without gaining complete consciousness in between each attack. Epilepsy patients with status epilepticus have an increased risk of permanent brain damage, which can be fatal.
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    9. Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP)
    For epilepsy patients, there is a small risk of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, or SUDEP. Although no one is certain of the cause of SUDEP, it may be related to heart and respiratory complications. Talk to your doctor about controlling your epilepsy because there is a higher risk of SUDEP when epilepsy is poorly controlled.
  • Man biking near Golden Gate Bridge
    Take the proper precautions.
    The complications of epilepsy can be scary. However, if you take proper precautions, follow your treatment plan, and have an ongoing dialogue with your doctor, you can reduce your risks and better manage your condition. Also, engage your friends and family to help you manage your epilepsy and anticipate its necessary precautions.
9 Complications of Epilepsy

About The Author

  1. Physical Fitness.http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/livingwithepilepsy/healthandwellness/stayinghealthy/physicalfitnes.... Accessed October 3, 2013.
  2. Side Effects. http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/treatment/medications/sideeffects.cfm. Accessed October 3, 2013.
  3. Surgery. http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/treatment/surgery/index.cfm. Accessed October 3, 2013.
  4. Ho Lee J, et al. Surgical Complications of Epilepsy Surgery Procedures: Experience of 179 Procedures in a Single Institute. J Korean Herosurg Soc. 2008 October: 44(4):234-239. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2588306/
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Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 21
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