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Strokes Can Lead to Seizures

Each year, approximately 800,000 Americans have a stroke. Strokes happen when the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off. A stroke can have traumatic and catastrophic consequences not only for the person having a stroke, but for their families and loved ones as well. Depending on its severity, a stroke can impair movement, sensation, communication, memory, and emotion. Nearly 10% of stroke survivors experience post-stroke seizures.

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the most common cause of seizures in older people. A study by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found that about 23% of adults aged 65 or older with a history of epilepsy reported having had a stroke, compared to only about 5% of older adults without a history of epilepsy. For Joycelyn Martin, this statistic became a reality when her mother, Wulini Huggins, who had previously had a stroke experienced a seizure.

Joycelyn Martin (left) and her mother Wulini Huggins, who recently developed epilepsy after having a stroke
Joycelyn Martin (left) and her mother Wulini Huggins, who recently developed epilepsy after having a stroke

“I called out to her but heard no response which was not unusual,” said Ms. Martin. “I walked over to repeat the question and noticed a funny look on my mother’s face – an absent, distant look, non-responsive to conversation or touch. I suddenly realized that she was having a seizure!”

Strokes to Seizures

Seizures occur after a stroke because scar tissue formed in brain areas damaged by strokes send out abnormal electrical signals. This electrical activity can trigger different types of seizures based on where it starts and how it spreads. Approximately 43% of people who experience post-stroke seizures have done so within 24 hours of their stroke. Furthermore, an eight-year (2005-2013) study proved the association between strokes and seizures was stronger among nonwhite patients, including African Americans.

Recognizing Seizures

Having a seizure after a stroke does not necessarily mean you will develop epilepsy. If a person has recovered from a stroke and hasn’t had a seizure, they are at very low risk of developing epilepsy. However, seizures may indicate that someone has had a stroke when warning signs aren’t clearly present. That is why is it important for everyone to increase their knowledge about post-stroke seizures so that people can better control and manage them.

Ms. Huggins experienced a focal seizure, something that Ms. Martin would not have known if she had not learned more about seizures.

“It is vitally important for people to know the different types of seizures,” she said. “They need to know the signs. If I had not taken the Seizure First Aid Training, I would not have known that my mother needed medical attention. It took the hospital one week to get the seizures under control. My mother is now unable to walk or clearly talk.”

It is also important that everyone know the warning signs of stroke and are prepared to act in a stroke emergency. Stroke is an emergency and knowledge is our power. Learning the F.A.S.T. warning signs of stroke—face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911—can mean the difference between life and death and recovery or disability.

Use ❤️ to Make a Difference on World Heart Day

In commemoration of World Heart Day on September 29, the Epilepsy Foundation has partnered with the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, to promote cardiovascularhealth in African American communities. As part of this collaboration, both organizations are hosting a Seizure Recognition and First Aid Certification training led by Dr. Lorraine Newborn-Palmer, a member of the Epilepsy Foundation’s professional advisory board, and Dr. Philip Gorelick, a neurologist and professional member of the American Stroke Association. The Epilepsy Foundation’s Seizure Recognition and First Aid Certification focuses on educating the public how to recognize seizures and administer first aid. This free, online training will also include information about strokes, including theF.A.S.T. warning signs for identifying a stroke: Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty, and Time to call 911. Make a difference for your loved ones and others and become seizure first aid certified today. Register at: bit.ly/Sept29SFA.

This article was supported by the CDC/US Dept. of HHS as part of a financial assistance award totaling $30,000 with 100% funded by the CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS, or the US Government.

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