NCP Seizure Disorders

Seizures (convulsions) are the result of uncontrolled electrical discharges from the nerve cells of the cerebral cortex and are characterized by sudden, brief attacks of altered consciousness, motor activity, and/or sensory phenomena.

Seizures can be associated with a variety of cerebral or systemic disorders as a focal or generalized disturbance of cortical function. Sensory symptoms arise from the parietal lobe; motor symptoms arise from the frontal lobe.

The phases of seizure activity are prodromal, aural, ictal, and postictal. The prodromal phase involves mood or behavior changes that may precede a seizure by hours or days. The aura is a premonition of impending seizure activity and may be visual, auditory, or gustatory. The ictal stage is characterized by seizure activity, usually musculoskeletal.

The postictal stage is a period of confusion/somnolence/irritability that occurs after the seizure.

The main causes for seizures can be divided into six categories:

Toxic agents: Poisons, alcohol, overdoses of prescription/nonprescription drugs (with drugs the leading cause).

Chemical imbalances: Hyperkalemia, hypoglycemia, and acidosis.

Fever: Acute infections, heatstroke.

Cerebral pathology: Resulting from head injury, infections, hypoxia, expanding brain lesions, increased intracranial pressure.

Eclampsia: Prenatal hypertension/toxemia of pregnancy.

Idiopathic: Unknown origin.

Seizures can be divided into two major classifications (generalized and partial). Generalized seizure types include tonic-clonic, myoclonic, clonic, tonic, atonic, and absence seizures. Partial (focal) seizures are the most common type and are categorized as either (1) simple (partial motor, partial sensory) or (2) complex.


Community; however, may require brief inpatient care on a medical or subacute unit for stabilization/treatment of status epilepticus.


Cerebrovascular accident (CVA)/stroke

Craniocerebral trauma (acute rehabilitative phase)

Psychosocial aspects of care

Substance dependence/abuse rehabilitation

Patient Assessment Database


May report: Fatigue, general weakness

Limitation of activities/occupation imposed by self/significant other (SO)/healthcare provider or others

May exhibit: Altered muscle tone/strength

Involuntary movement/contractions of muscles or muscle groups (generalized tonic-clonic seizures)


May exhibit: Ictal: Hypertension, increased pulse, cyanosis

Postictal: Vital signs normal or depressed with decreased pulse and respiration


May report: Internal/external stressors related to condition and/or treatment

Irritability; sense of helplessness/hopelessness

Changes in relationships

May exhibit: Wide range of emotional responses


May report: Episodic incontinence

May exhibit: Ictal: Increased bladder pressure and sphincter tone

Postictal : Muscles relaxed, resulting in incontinence (urinary/fecal)


May report: Food sensitivity nausea/vomiting correlating with seizure activity

May exhibit: Dental/soft-tissue damage (injury during seizure)

Gingival hyperplasia (side effect of long-term phenytoin [Dilantin] use)


May report: History of headaches, recurring seizure activity, fainting, dizziness

History of head trauma, anoxia, cerebral infections

Prodromal phase: Vague changes in emotional reactivity or affective response preceding aura in some cases and lasting minutes to hours

Presence of aura (stimulation of visual, auditory, hallucinogenic areas)

Postictal: Weakness, muscle pain, areas of paresthesia/paralysis

May exhibit: Seizure characteristics: (ictal, postictal)

Generalized seizures:

Tonic-clonic (grand mal): Rigidity and jerking posturing, vocalization, loss of consciousness, dilated pupils, stertorous respiration, excessive salivation (froth), fecal/urinary incontinence, and biting of the tongue may occur and last 2–5 min.

Postictal phase: Patient sleeps 30 min to several hours, then may be weak, confused, and amnesic concerning the episode, with nausea and stiff, sore muscles

Myoclonic: Short abrupt muscle contractions of arms, legs, torso; may not be symmetrical; lasts seconds

Clonic: Muscle contraction with relaxation resembling myoclonic movements but with slower repetitions; may last several minutes

Tonic: Abrupt increase in muscle tone of torso/face, flexion of arms, extension of legs; lasts seconds

Atonic: Abrupt loss of muscle tone; lasts seconds; patient may fall

Absence (petit mal): Periods of altered awareness or consciousness (staring, fluttering of eyes) lasting 5–30 sec, which may occur as many as 100 times a day; minor motor seizures may be akinetic (loss of movement), myoclonic (repetitive motor contractions), or atonic (loss of muscle tone). Postictal phase: Amnesia for seizure events, no confusion, able to resume activity

Status epilepticus: Defined as 30 or more minutes of continuous generalized seizure activity or two or more sequential seizures without full recovery of consciousness in between, possibly related to abrupt withdrawal of anticonvulsants and other metabolic phenomena. If absence seizures are the pattern, problem may go undetected for a period of time because patient does not lose consciousness

Partial seizures:

Complex (psychomotor/temporal lobe): Patient generally remains conscious, with reactions such as dream state, staring, wandering, irritability, hallucinations, hostility, or fear. May display involuntary motor symptoms (lip smacking) and behaviors that appear purposeful but are inappropriate (automatism) and include impaired judgment and, on occasion, antisocial acts; lasts 1–3 min. Postictal phase: Absence of memory for these events, mild to moderate confusion

Simple (focal-motor/Jacksonian): Often preceded by aura (may report deja vu or fearfulfeeling); no loss of consciousness (unilateral) or loss of consciousness (bilateral); convulsive movements and temporary disturbance in part controlled by the brain region involved (e.g., frontal lobe [motor dysfunction], parietal [numbness, tingling], occipital [bright, flashing lights], posterotemporal [difficulty speaking]). Convulsions may march along limb or side of body in orderly progression. If restrained during seizure, patient may exhibit combative and uncooperative behavior; lasts seconds to minutes


May report: Headache, muscle/back soreness postictally

Paroxysmal abdominal pain during ictal phase (may occur during some partial/focal seizures without loss of consciousness)

May exhibit: Guarding behavior

Alteration in muscle tone

Distraction behavior/restlessness


May exhibit: Ictal: Clenched teeth, cyanosis, decreased or rapid respirations; increased mucous secretions

Postictal: Apnea


May report: History of accidental falls/injuries, fractures

Presence of allergies

May exhibit: Soft-tissue injury/ecchymosis

Decreased general strength/muscle tone


May report: Problems with interpersonal relationships within family/socially

Limitation/avoidance of social contacts


May report: Familial history of epilepsy

Drug (including alcohol) use/misuse

Increased frequency of episodes/failure to improve

Discharge plan

DRG projected mean length of inpatient stay: 4.4 days

May require changes in medications, assistance with some homemaker/maintenance tasks relative to issues of safety, and transportation

Refer to section at end of plan for postdischarge considerations.


Electrolytes: Imbalances may affect/predispose to seizure activity.

Glucose: Hypoglycemia may precipitate seizure activity.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): Elevation may potentiate seizure activity or may indicate nephrotoxicity related to medication regimen.

Complete blood count (CBC): Aplastic anemia may result from drug therapy.

Serum drug levels: To verify therapeutic range of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs).

Toxicology screen: Determines potentiating factors such as alcohol or other drug use.

Skull x-rays: Identifies presence of space-occupying lesions, fractures.

Electroencephalogram (EEG) may be done serially: Locates area of cerebral dysfunction; measures brain activity.

Brain waves take on characteristic spikes in each type of seizure activity; however, up to 40% of seizure patients have normal EEGs because the paroxysmal abnormalities occur intermittently.

Video-EEG monitoring, 24 hours (video picture obtained at same time as EEG): May identify exact focus of seizure activity (advantage of repeated viewing of event with EEG recording).

Computed tomography (CT) scan: Identifies localized cerebral lesions, infarcts, hematomas, cerebral edema, trauma, abscesses, tumor; can be done with or without contrast medium.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Localizes focal lesions.

Positron emission tomography (PET): Demonstrates metabolic alterations, e.g., decreased metabolism of glucose at site of lesion.

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT): May show local areas of brain dysfunction when CT and MRI are normal.

Magnetoencephalogram: Maps the electrical impulses/potential of brain for abnormal discharge patterns.

Lumbar puncture: Detects abnormal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure, signs of infections or bleeding (i.e., subarachnoid, subdural hemorrhage) as a cause of seizure activity (rarely done).

Wada’s test: Determines hemispheric dominance (done as a presurgical evaluation before temporal lobectomy).


1. Prevent/control seizure activity.
2. Protect patient from injury.
3. Maintain airway/respiratory function.
4. Promote positive self-esteem.
5. Provide information about disease process, prognosis, and treatment needs.


1. Seizures activity controlled.
2. Complications/injury prevented.
3. Capable/competent self-image displayed.
4. Disease process/prognosis, therapeutic regimen, and limitations understood.
5. Plan in place to meet needs after discharge.