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What is a Breakthrough Seizure? - Definition & Causes

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

This lesson is going to briefly hit on epilepsy and seizures. We will then focus on the definition of a breakthrough seizure and explore the possible causes of this particular type of seizure. Updated: 11/24/2022

Breakthrough Seizures

Rachel is finishing up a visit at her doctor's office. She has been under the care of Dr. Schadler for several years now, and the office staff has become very familiar with her. They have treated her for epilepsy, which is a brain disease that causes seizures. Seizures are temporary interruptions in the brain's normal electrical activity.

Rachel has gone several months since her last seizure, so the epilepsy is under control thanks to the medications and other therapies that Dr. Schadler prescribed. At the check-out desk, Rachel talks to the receptionist to set her next appointment in six months. She no longer needs to be seen more frequently since the epilepsy is under control and she is not having seizures.

A week goes by, and Rachel is in the emergency room because she experienced a breakthrough seizure, or a seizure that occurs after an extended period of seizures being prevented by medication and therapy. Dr. Schadler is called in to check Rachel out and determine what could have caused her to suffer a breakthrough seizure.

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  • 0:04 Breakthrough Seizures
  • 1:04 Causes
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Now that Rachel is stable and coherent enough to speak, Dr. Schadler begins the process of determining the possible cause of her breakthrough seizure. The first thing that comes to mind is the medication that Rachel is taking. Rachel confirms that she has taken the medication as Dr. Schadler prescribed without missing any doses or taking less than the normal amount. Skipping doses of medication, stopping medications, and taking a lower dose of medications are all possible causes of breakthrough seizures.

Dr. Schadler asks whether Rachel went anywhere that had flashing lights or if she was around anyone playing video games. Both of these are also possible causes of breakthrough seizures, especially since Rachel has had seizures from these things in the past. But Rachel was not exposed to any of these causes before her breakthrough seizure occurred.

A nurse comes in to draw blood to check Rachel's blood glucose and blood sodium levels. Dr. Schadler requested these tests because severe changes in blood glucose and blood sodium levels can potentially cause breakthrough seizures. But in Rachel's case, both of these blood tests come back normal.

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