Good Question: What Happens During A Seizure?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For Gopher football coach Jerry Kill, the sudden spike in seizures has been a mystery. For scientists looking into seizures, the inner-workings of the brain is always a mystery. So what is a seizure and what happens inside the brain?

“Everything gets excited, everything gets stimulated like being hit by lightning,” said Dr. Michael Frost, a neurologist with Minnesota Epilepsy Group in St. Paul.

According to Frost, not all seizures are epilepsy, but most seizures that aren’t linked to diabetes are.

He explained epilepsy as “somebody who’s had at least a seizure and is at risk for more.”

In Minnesota, 60,000 people have epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. The problems begin in one of the brain’s neurons.

“The neuron is misfiring or the neuron on the receiving is not receiving the message correctly or acting correctly,” Frost said.

The extra electrical activity makes it impossible for the brain to process its normal signals.

Seventy percent of the time, medication can be used to bring the brain’s electrical levels into balance. But when drugs don’t work, surgery offers a solution.

“[Misfiring neurons] can be removed if you can map it out. You do treat and cure epilepsy by removing the bad area of the brain,” Frost said.

The cause of seizures is varied: from traumatic injuries, to brain tumors, birth defects and a genetic predispositions.

Jerry Kill developed seizures after a cancer diagnosis in 2005. He’s noted that he’s still walking and coaching, after having a five-day stretch with 20 seizures.

“There are kids … that have hundreds of seizures a day,” Frost said.

But just as repeated power surges will zap a computer, there can be a danger in having repeated seizures.

“No seizure is good for the brain,” Frost said.

There are about 20 different drugs to treat seizures, and the main difference is the side effects.

Melissa D. Becker, communications director for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, said people with epilepsy consider coach Kill a hero.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of people we serve, saying … how glad they are to see local media bringing epilepsy/seizure disorders out from behind the shadows,” she said.

Others who’ve thrived with seizures include: Leonardo da Vinci, Elizabeth Taylor, Charles Dickens, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Senator Ted Kennedy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Prince.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • ardentmeld

    Thank you for this Good Question, it is helping make seizures and epilepsy less mysterious and definately bringing it out to the public to show it is not a dark disorder.

  • tom

    Twice in your film clips Coach Kill mentioned his cancer or cancer treatment in relation to his seizures. Your should have taken the opportunity in this story to address the confusion here too. Perhaps saying that was an attempt on his part to gain sympathy or distract from his long, prior history of seizures going back years before his cancer diagnosis. If you would have asked the doctor about this, he would have surely said that epileptic seizures are very unlikely to be caused by cancer or cancer treatment.

  • Steve Stoterau


    We sure have to be thankful for your almighty power of deduction!!
    We also can see that you don’t have the common sense to figure out how to look at a proble. What happens to the body when drugs are put into it? It is altered. Coach Kill developed epilepsy after taking the drugs used in cancer treatment. There are many people whose epilepsy is called “Medical Epilepsy” because it was caused by some medical treatment they required.
    It’s pretty obvious that you are in denial about something, or want sympathy for yourself.
    Think about it. 10% of all people are going to have a seizure in their lifetime. Are that
    many people trying to get your sympathy? No-one would want it if it was available to them, just bevause of comments like yours.

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