Skip to main content
An official website of the United States government


Woman with seizure lying on the floor.
Credit: iStock

What is a Seizure 

Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled body movements and changes in behavior that are caused by abnormal activity in the brain. There are different kinds of seizures. Some are focal (a person remains awake) and others are generalized (a person loses consciousness). Seizures can be caused by a brain or spine tumor or cancer treatment.

Seizures may include the following symptoms:

  • Odd feelings - unusual smells, tastes, or feelings
  • Unusual experiences - 'out-of-body' sensations 
  • Feeling confused or memory loss
  • Jerking movements or tingling of an arm, leg, or body often on one side
  • Periods of losing consciousness, sometimes with jerking movements and/or incontinence

Ways to Manage Seizures 

  • Record if you have a seizure and what you are doing to manage it daily using the My STORITM app or a journal. When tracking, include: 
    • What you were doing before the seizure occurred?
    • What, if any, symptoms you had prior to the seizure?
    • What part of the body was involved and how long did the seizure last?
    • What type of seizure did you have (focal or generalized)?
    • What happened after the seizure stopped?
  • Develop a seizure emergency plan with your doctors and include those living with you so you know what to do and who to call.
    • Get to a safe place on the floor or ground and alert someone that the seizure has started.
    • Ask your health care provider when you should alert a designated emergency contact (for example, 911).
    • Monitor how long the seizure lasts and parts of the body involved. 
    • After the seizure you may be sleepy and feel like you will vomit, so you or someone with you should place you on your left side to help with this.
  • Recognize and avoid triggers, which are things that may lead to seizures or make them more severe or frequent. Triggers may include: missing or taking your anti-seizure medication late, stress, lack of sleep, other illnesses or infections, overheating or overexertion, alcohol intake, flashing lights, and for women, their menstrual cycle.

Some self-care activities you can do to improve your pain can include diet, exercise, sleep, or medication

  • Avoid alcohol as this can cause you to have seizures. 
  • If a seizure has occurred, you may have changes in your strength or balance. Talk to your doctor about restarting your exercise plan to see what exercises would be right for you. Start slow and don’t push yourself too hard. Overheating and rapid breathing are triggers for seizures. If you have experienced seizures or are at risk, ask for their recommendations and limitations for you (for example, you should not swim alone).
  • Ask your health care provider what medication they want you to take for seizure prevention and what other pain medication you should take after a seizure occurs. If your medications do not work as expected, your medication may also need to be adjusted.
  • Take your medication exactly as prescribed. Review if you should take seizure medication with food or avoid food when taking. It may impact the medications ability to work. Talk with your health care team if you miss a dose and avoid suddenly stopping any medication. Missed and altering medications is one of the most common causes of seizures.

When to Report Seizures 

Connect with your health care provider and discuss any concerns you have. Share your logged symptoms and self-care activities with them. 

  • Ask your doctor when and how to report your symptoms to them. 
  • Report if your seizure gets worse, if your seizure is severe (>7), or your seizures do not improve from your self-care activities.

Ask your doctor what you should do in the case of an emergency and when your seizures should be reported urgently. This may include if you are experiencing a seizure that lasts longer than five minutes or when you have multiple seizures that occur close together and you do not recover between seizures.

  • Updated:

If you would like to reproduce some or all of this content, see Reuse of NCI Information for guidance about copyright and permissions. In the case of permitted digital reproduction, please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source and link to the original NCI product using the original product's title; e.g., “Seizure was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”