Epilepsy Complications

Complications in epilepsy are usually preventable. Unfortunately, they still happen, particularly as a result of not adhering to the treatment plan given by the doctor. Medication adherence when treating epilepsy is key to avoiding severe complications.


  • Difficulty learning - When someone has very frequent seizures, the brain may be able to recover from the last one. Learning and processing can become an issue. This can cause a lot of distress.


  • Breathing food or saliva into the lungs during a seizure - this can cause aspiration pneumonia. This is unfortunately one of the more serious complications that can result in hospitalization. Aspiration pneumonia can lead to respiratory failure that can send you to the ICU. Note, incidences can be decreased if the individual is turned to their side during a convulsion.


  • Injury during a seizure - whether it be falls, self-inflicted bites, or just a bump, these complications are common. This can vary from just a small bump on your head to something more severe. Having a seizure whilst driving or operating machinery is something that must be avoided as much as possible, even if this means changing jobs. 


  • Permanent brain damage - Sometimes the seizure goes on for a very long time (status epilepticus) and it can result in permanent damage to the brain. Any seizure that lasts for longer than 5 minutes (or longer than usual) is very serious and needs medical attention immediately.


  • Side effects from medications - Anti-epileptic drugs are known to have some side effects. This is the reason many people stop taking their medication. It is extremely important to inform your doctor about all the side effect you are experiencing. There are many alternatives, or the medication can simply be adjusted. Never stop taking your medication if it is not recommended by your doctor.


Written by Dr Ruusa Shivute | Health Window


Thijs RD, Surges R, O'Brien TJ, Sander JW. Epilepsy in adults. Lancet. 2019;393(10172):689-701. PMID: 30686584 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30686584/.

Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 101.

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