Department of Neurology

Are they auras or seizures?

Q: I am a 50 yr old woman recently diagnosed with complex partial seizures. My first seizure was 7 years ago and I saw myself in the mirror in Vietnam during the war in the midst of terrible fighting-but I knew I was really at home in my own room. Was very afraid I would be sucked into this other reality. Had shorter seizure weeks later along with "forced memories". In April had another long visual seizure and was hospitalized, seizure activity was seen on EEG. Have tried Tegretol and Depakote--could not tolerate. I am on 400mg Dilantin and 60mg of Paxil for depression. Family doctor had referred me to neurologist at Ochsners in New Orleans. Have had 3rd EEG (2nd and 3rd look normal) and 2 normal MRIs. Have very poor short term memory since April seizure as well as problems using incorrect words, writing incorrect numbers, very poor math skills. I hear phone ring when it is not, hear music when there is none playing and last episode was bad--woke up to hear daughter sobbing and talking to someone. When I jumped up to go see what had happed, I could'nt find her in the house. She was still at work. Had very bad deja-vu episode that lasted off and on for 2 days. This was last week. Have started experiancing plunging depression more and more frequently--every couple of days. (Just had paxil increased from 40 to 60mg.) Are these experiances auras or seizures? Can't see neurologist in La. until Oct 2nd. First visit was short-asked about seizure at work and did some in-office tests. Ordered 3rd EEG and I have a 2 hour psychological test in a few days. I feel so bad mentally--not really emotionally except for depression. Can no longer work or drive. The hearing episodes are getting worse and the deja-vu stronger, very frightening. Please tell me what I can do until I can see the neurologist again. Thank you so very much for your time and help.


A: An "aura" or "warning" is a sensation described by many persons before having more visible seizure behaviors. The aura is actually a seizure that has not yet sufficiently spread through the brain to cause loss of consciousness. The symptoms of the aura relates to what part of the brain it starts in. Emotional experiences. such as intense fear, and forced memories or other memory phenomena, such as deja vu, may be manifestations of seizures, especially when they arise from the temporal lobe.

However, similar phenomena may also occur in spells from other causes than seizures, and it is not possible to determine what you have without a full neurologic evaluation. If these spells are interfering with your daily routine you should ask to be re-evaluated sooner. In order to determine whether your spells are seizures or not, it may be necessary to perform continuous recording of your brain activity to record an episode.

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