Brain Tumors, Primary: Managing Seizures

A common symptom of many brain tumors is epilepsy — the occurrence of more than one spontaneous seizure. Seizures happen when an abnormality in the brain causes unusual surges in the electrical activity through which neurons communicate with one another.

When seizures occur, they can lead to temporary problems with consciousness, movement, or speech, depending on the part of the brain in which the tumor is located. Seizures can be life threatening and the frequency with which they arise can be debilitating.

Seizures occur in 30 to 50 percent of people with brain tumors. Seizures that are related to brain tumors arise most often in patients with low-grade tumors, including gliomas and oligodendrogliomas. Seizures also develop in about 25 percent of patients with meningiomas or brain metastases.

Diagnosing and Treating Seizures at the Brain Tumor Center

If you are experiencing seizures, a neurologist may perform an electroencephalogram (EEG). An EEG records the electrical activity in the brain over a short period of time, typically 20 to 40 minutes. The neurologist then analyzes the study to look for abnormalities that could result in seizures.  Looking at this information and the results of imaging and other tests, the neurologist offers advice on the best way to manage the seizures. Your team considers this information when planning your treatment for the tumor.

Fortunately, there are a variety of medications that are able to control seizures. However, because many patients undergoing treatment for brain tumors are also receiving chemotherapy or other drugs, it is important to coordinate anti-seizure medications with other medications you might be receiving to avoid harmful drug interactions.

At the Brain Tumor Center, your neurologist will work closely with your neuro-oncologist and other members of your team to prescribe appropriate regimens of anti-seizure medications that minimize your risk of dangerous drug interactions. Your medical team will also work together to monitor for side effects and to ensure that the tumor and any seizures you might be experiencing are managed in ways that best preserve your quality of life.

In some cases, treatment to eliminate or shrink a brain tumor is also able to improve seizures. This can be achieved with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. This result can be permanent, or it may be temporary if tumor tissue remains in the brain or begins to grow again. Having a specialist as a part of your team ensures that any recurrence or persistence of the seizures can be managed continually as a part of your overall care.