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In some cases, dehydration can cause seizures. This includes triggering epileptic seizures in people with preexisting epilepsy. Additionally, it may provoke singular seizures in people without epilepsy.This article discusses how dehydration may contribute to different kinds of seizures. It also explains when to seek medical help for dehydration and seizures and how to prevent dehydration-related seizures.

Can dehydration cause a seizure?

In some cases, dehydration may cause seizures.

This is because seizures result from changes in brain function due to illness, injury, or structural differences. Severe dehydration can affect brain function and trigger seizures.

Below are some explanations of how dehydration may contribute to different seizures.

How dehydration causes seizures

To understand how dehydration may cause seizures, it is important to know about the different seizure types. These include:

  • Epileptic seizures: Epileptic seizures occur due to uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. They are known as “unprovoked” seizures as they do not have an immediate cause. Instead, they occur due to permanent brain damage which can be present from birth or acquired later in life. For a person to receive an epilepsy diagnosis, they must have had two or more unprovoked seizures.
  • Provoked seizures: Provoked seizures are seizures that occur as a symptom of ongoing illness, such as meningitis. As a result, they are also known as “acute symptomatic” seizures. They are not considered epileptic.

How does dehydration cause provoked seizures?

Being dehydrated is one possible cause of electrolyte imbalances. This refers to changes in the balance of minerals known as “electrolytes” in your body. Electrolytes have many important roles and contribute to nutrition, waste management, and organ function. Due to this, electrolyte imbalances can significantly impact health, including the function of the brain.

As a result, sometimes severe dehydration leading to electrolyte imbalances may cause a provoked seizure as a symptom.

How does dehydration cause epileptic seizures?

Dehydration alone is not a recognized cause of epilepsy. This means that it will not cause epilepsy to develop in someone who does not already have the condition.

Epilepsy occurs due to significant damage or structural differences in the brain. Multiple factors may contribute to its development. These factors can include:

  • brain damage from birth or birth-related causes, such as low birth weight
  • genetic conditions and syndromes
  • structural or functional differences in the brain
  • severe head injuries
  • deprivation of oxygen to the brain
  • infection of the brain
  • brain tumor
  • stroke

However, dehydration and related electrolyte imbalances may trigger a seizure episode to come about in someone who already has epilepsy. In fact, dehydration and not taking in enough fluids is a common seizure trigger, according to the Epilepsy Foundation charity.

As a result, mild dehydration and electrolyte imbalances may cause a seizure in a person with epilepsy. By contrast, it takes severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances to cause provoked seizures in a person without epilepsy.

When to seek medical help

Not all seizures and cases of dehydration are medical emergencies. However, some severe cases of dehydration and its complications, such as seizures, may require urgent medical care.

Call 911 or seek emergency care if you have a seizure that you believe could be related to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or other severe illness.

It is also advisable to seek urgent advice from a doctor if you or someone you care for experiences any of the following dehydration symptoms with or without a seizure:

  • unusual fatigue or drowsiness
  • fast breathing rate or heart rate
  • confusion or disorientation
  • dizziness that does not improve
  • dark yellow urine
  • urinating less than normal
  • few or no tears when crying
  • fewer wet diapers
  • in infants, a soft sunken-in spot on their head

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommend calling 911 for any seizures in the following circumstances:

  • It could be the person’s first seizure.
  • The seizure lasts 5 minutes or more.
  • More than one seizure occurs in quick succession.
  • The person has difficulty recovering after the seizure, such as difficulty regaining consciousness or breathing.
  • The person becomes ill or injured before, during, or after the seizure.
  • The person is pregnant or has an underlying health condition, such as diabetes.
  • The seizure occurs in water.

Outlook

The precise outlook of dehydration-related seizures can depend on the seizure type you experienced and many other factors, such as:

  • how your condition responds to treatment
  • length and severity of the seizure
  • whether you experience other complications

The World Health Organization also estimates that as much as 70% of people with epilepsy could be seizure-free with effective treatment.

Additionally, dehydration that is severe enough to trigger seizures may present a risk of other complications to health, such as coma. As a result, it is important to seek urgent care. Prompt and effective treatment can help recovery and reduce further risks to health.

For individualized advice regarding outlook, contact your doctor.

Prevention

It may not be possible to stop all seizures from occurring, especially if you have a seizure disorder such as epilepsy.

However, drinking enough every day can help reduce dehydration as a risk factor for triggering provoked and epileptic seizures.

The United States government health resources do not recommend a specific level of how much you should drink per day. This is because the appropriate amount to drink can vary slightly per individual depending on personal factors, such as age, body size, and health.

As a general guide for healthy adults, the National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults take in between 2.7 and 3.8 liters of fluid daily. However, this is a very rough estimation and includes water needed from food. As a result, the amount you benefit from drinking may be slightly lower or otherwise vary.

Additionally, it is important to take particular care to remain hydrated if you experience any risk factors for dehydration, such as:

  • being ill
  • having diarrhea
  • sweating a lot, such as due to exercise or hot weather

Summary

Dehydration can cause some types of seizures. This includes provoked seizures that occur as a symptom of illness, such as dehydration or related electrolyte imbalances.

Dehydration is not known to cause epilepsy in someone who does not already have the condition. However, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can trigger seizures in people who already have epilepsy.

Seek emergency care for any symptoms of severe dehydration or seizures.

 

Source: healthgrades.com, Heidi Moawad M.D., Alex Prosser

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