Seizure Disorder - Condition and Symptoms
Seizure disorders are characterized by episodes of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. Normal brain function requires an orderly, coordinated discharge of electrical impulses. Electrical impulses enable the brain to communicate with the spinal cord, nerves, and muscles, as well as with itself. The disturbance in electrical activity caused by seizure disorders results in temporary brain dysfunction. Some seizures cause uncontrollable movements and unconsciousness, but others simply cause people to stop moving. The seizure victim is usually unaware of what is happening when having a seizure, although some notice unusual symptoms just prior to having one.
Seizure disorders can be hereditary, and some are caused by birth defects and environmental hazards. Seizures can also be caused by injuries, certain drugs, sleep deprivation, infections, fever, abnormal heart rhythms, a low level of oxygen in the blood, or a very low level of sugar in the blood. In a small number of cases, seizures are triggered by repetitive sounds, flashing lights, video games, or even touching certain parts of the body. In such cases, the disorder is called reflex epilepsy.
People can have a single seizure, but those with recurring seizures are said to have a seizure disorder. Those with a seizure disorder are more likely to experience seizures during times of stress or when sleep deprived, and seizure disorders are more likely if you have other neurological disorders, psychiatric conditions, or immune system problems. While most seizures leave minimal lasting effects, some seizures can affect intelligence or cause brain damage and other serious problems.
There are two basic types of seizures: epileptic and non-epileptic. Epileptic seizures occur repeatedly and have no apparent trigger. Non-epileptic seizures are triggered by an identifiable cause, such as an underlying disease process or a high fever. There are also psychogenic non-epileptic seizures which are linked to certain mental disorders. Most commonly, seizure disorders begin in early childhood or in late adulthood.
Seizure disorders are diagnosed based not only on observed symptoms, but also with an electroencephalogram (EEG) test, brain imaging techniques, neurological examination and blood tests. There are many, varied symptoms of seizure disorders which correlate with the periods before a seizure starts, during the seizure, and after the seizure ends.
Before a seizure starts, a person may have a tingling sensation, racing thoughts, visual problems, dizziness, panic, or other warning signs. However, not all people know when a seizure is coming, and not all seizures give warnings.
During the seizure, most people become unaware of their surroundings (they “black out”), but they may be aware of confusion, the feeling of an electric shock, or the awareness of being deaf. Others who are with the person having a seizure may witness convulsions, eye rolling or eyelid fluttering, chewing movements, tongue biting, drooling, uncoordinated movements of the arms and legs, and other symptoms.
After a seizure, the person may feel confused, depressed, sad, frustrated, or shamed. Headache, nausea, thirst, weakness, and pain often occur.
Seizure disorders are usually treated with medication and a special diet. In some cases, surgery may be indicated.
Filing for Social Security Disability with a Seizure Disorder Diagnosis
The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers Seizure Disorders under Section 111 of the Blue Book, Neurological-Childhood. Unfortunately, there is no separate listing for adults who have a seizure disorder. However, the SSA’s disability evaluation consistently focuses on the effects and limits any condition imposes on someone who has it. Therefore, the SSA will examine the way your seizure disorder affects you and limits your activities. The effects and limits must be sufficient to support a disability claim.
In order to file a disability claim based on an epileptic Seizure Disorder, your medical records must detail:
- The diagnosis of seizure disorder
- The severity of the seizure disorder
- The frequency with which you experience seizures
- A detailed description of a typical seizure
Details can include whether or not you see aura, tend to bite your tongue, lose consciousness, tend to injure yourself, etc. Your doctor should record his or her own observations, and you will need your lab reports and test results to accompany your disability claim. You should document the types of treatment you have had and the results. You must show that you follow prescribed treatment (this can be documented by blood levels of the medications you are taking), and that your seizures continue despite treatment, or that your seizures can be controlled only by dangerously high levels of the drugs prescribed. You must have been undergoing treatment for at least three months before determining that your prescribed treatments cannot control your seizures.
To file a disability claim based on a non-epileptic seizure disorder, your seizures must be documented by EEGs. The SSA also wants information regarding when your seizures started, how often they occur, and what type of seizures you have.
Epileptic Seizure Disorder (Epilepsy). To meet the stipulations of the Blue Book listing for epileptic seizure disorder, you must have, in addition to a diagnosis of epilepsy, one of the following:
- Documented evidence of at least one major seizure each month, despite at least three months of treatment AND at least one of the requirements of Paragraph A; OR
- Documented evidence of at least one major seizure each year, despite at least three months of treatment AND at least one of the requirements of Paragraph B.
The requirements of Paragraphs A and B are as follows:
A. You must have medically documented evidence of at least one major seizure per month as well as at least one of the following:
- Daytime seizures that involve loss of consciousness and convulsions; or
- Night-time seizures, the result of which is interference with your ability to function the next day.
B. You must have medically documented evidence of at least one major seizure per year, despite at least three months of treatment, and at least one of the following:
- You must have an IQ of 70 or less; or
- You must have significant difficulty with communication because of defects of speech, hearing, or sight; or
- You must have a significant mental disorder; or
- Medication to control your seizures have such deleterious effects that there is major disruption of your major daily activities.
Non-Epileptic Seizure Disorder (Non-Convulsive Epilepsy). To meet the stipulations of this listing in the Blue Book for non-epileptic seizure disorder, you must have, in addition to a diagnosis of an established seizure disorder, at least one minor seizure per week that involves either changes in awareness or unconsciousness, despite at least three months of treatment.
Your Seizure Disorder Disability Case
If you are disabled because your Seizure Disorder prevents you from working, you may well be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. Although total disability based on a Seizure Disorder can be difficult to prove compared to other disabling conditions, working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the Disability Determination Services (DDS) can help to ensure that your Seizure Disorder disability case will have the highest possible chance of success.