Is There a Connection Between Parkinson’s and Seizures? It’s Possible
Seizures. The word conjures images of a contorted, twitching body and total loss of motor control. But that’s just one type, known as tonic-clonic seizures.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. It can cause changes in your behavior, movements or feelings, and in levels of consciousness. … Seizure types vary by where in the brain they begin and how far they spread. Most seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes.”
Focal seizures, absence seizures, and atonic or drop seizures are among the many manifestations of this neurological disruption.
I had seen seizures in clinical practice, but I didn’t see them in myself for a long time, even when they started to appear and became a part of my clinical diagnosis.
NeuroX, a project of American telephysicians, notes in a blog post that although seizures have been associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD), scientists have not yet identified a definite causal relationship. The post continues:
“However, several patients report seizures generally induced by environmental factors that typically start with lightheadedness and end with gagging nausea, intense sweating, and intense vertigo. If left untreated, some patients may suffer from multiple seizure episodes followed by exaggerated flooding emotions. Such patients may have to cease all daily life functioning, and recovery may take days.”
It was nice to find this description of a Parkinson’s seizure event, as it mirrors my own.
According to a research article published in 2018 in the journal Annals of Neurology, a retrospective cohort study conducted in the U.K. suggested an increased risk of incident epileptic seizures in people with incident Parkinson’s. Researchers also found that PD patients with other brain disorders or more than one seizure-provoking comorbidity were at the highest risk of epileptic seizures, compared with PD-free individuals with no seizure-provoking comorbidities.
Over the past two years, I have mentioned “surges” in my book, “Possibilities with Parkinson’s: A Fresh Look,” and in various columns. I only used the term “seizure” once to describe a reaction I had to a video game.
My first known seizure happened during a DaTscan, which is an imaging test to help diagnose PD. The technician kept telling me to hold still, but my head and body were shaking uncontrollably. The diagnosis of “seizure” was added to my medical record. I managed to go several years with only a slight “flicker” now and then.
Over the past year, my seizure activity has increased, as have my other Parkinson’s symptoms. It’s part of the illness progression for me.
When I write about a new symptom, I apply insight meditation beforehand, as I described in my columns about the conductor and lucid moments. Insight meditation is observing a lived phenomenon and one’s mind in the moment.
I find it almost impossible to be the observer during the peak of a seizure, or ictal phase. The phase before a seizure starts is known as pre-ictal, while the phase after the event is post-ictal.
I can observe the pre-ictal phase — the triggers and precursors that indicate to me that something isn’t quite right. I feel a lightheadedness, then a headache with vertigo, followed by neck and back spasms.
If left unchecked, it can escalate to intense emotions, followed by a rupture of any attempt to communicate. My words become a reflection of my brain — chaotic, an emotional storm. There is no self-awareness in that moment, just mental chaos.
I can observe the post-ictal phase, the physical feelings of exhaustion having gone through a seizure event. I just can’t be self-aware during the seizure event itself.
This is important, as mindful self-awareness is the foundation for retraining my Parkinson’s brain.
In clinical practice, I helped patients learn how to live with seizures, how to recognize the oncoming event, and how to avoid triggers, if possible. Now I am teaching myself.
The best tool has been an increase in daily meditation time along with mindful exercise. Both help to slow down the roar of altered seizure consciousness. My desired internal state is the quiet mind. With the quiet mind, it is easier to spot the seizures coming and minimize their effect.
PD self-management tools help to minimize the intensity of my seizures. I can’t prevent a seizure, but I can put my mind in a state of being that is aware of the triggers. Then, when the seizure starts, I can manage the intensity. It’s a daily practice for me that I’m still struggling to apply consistently.
Is there a correlation between Parkinson’s disease and seizures? There aren’t enough medical studies to prove this conclusively, but because both conditions affect the brain, the relationship deserves more investigation. Until then, I can work on awareness and management of both my Parkinson’s and my seizures.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.