Seizures are sudden, involuntary movements, muscular spasms, and tetany, or a sudden loss of control of the body, parts of the body, or mental faculties. In the clinic, it can be difficult to distinguish between a convulsive seizure and an epileptic seizure. Non-epileptic seizures can closely resemble epileptic seizures and can be easily confused, leaving practitioners with an ambiguous choice to make. In Chinese medicine, the distinction between epileptic and convulsive seizures is not essential, and the focus is on distinguishing between excess and deficiency, and within the excess types, the presence of heat and/or phlegm.
The term seizure is often used interchangeably with convulsion. Convulsions occur when a person's body shakes rapidly and uncontrollably, with their muscles contracting and relaxing repeatedly. However, there are types of seizures that do not involve gross shaking.
In Chinese medicine, heat is often seen as the catalyst for seizures, as it can agitate qi and cause it to become chaotic and uncontrolled. This can lead to spasms and involuntary movements. Deficiency, on the other hand, can create a void that allows wind to rush in and cause seizures.
Seizures can be classified as yang or yin depending on their characteristics. Yang seizures are typically characterized by frequent and severe spasms, while yin seizures are associated with more subtle symptoms such as behavioral changes and disturbances of consciousness.
Treatment of seizures in Chinese medicine focuses on resolving the underlying wind and/or phlegm and restoring balance to the body. This may involve the use of herbal formulas to expel wind and clear phlegm, as well as lifestyle modifications to address any underlying deficiency or heat.
External pathogenic invasion, such as by heat or a warm pathogen, is a common cause of acute convulsive seizures. When the heat penetrates the body, it can affect the Large Intestine, Stomach, Liver, or the levels of nutrients and blood in the body. At a certain intensity, the heat can stir up internal wind, which can lead to convulsive seizures. In general, a strong heat pathogen is necessary to generate enough wind to cause convulsive seizures. Poorly managed or out-of-control heat pathogens can also cause damage to yin and fluids, which can contribute to chronic or recurrent seizures.
Fluid loss through sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea can also lead to seizures by damaging yin, fluids, and blood.
Many cases of seizures have a familial component, suggesting an inherited weakness of essence and primal qi, or a tendency towards phlegm and qi constraint. When there is a constitutional aspect to seizures, they often begin during childhood.
Repressed emotions, such as anger, frustration, and resentment, as well as prolonged stress, can lead to Liver qi constraint, heat, and Liver fire. The fire generated by these conditions can cause wind, while constrained qi can lead to the congelation of phlegm from retarded fluids. As a result, Liver pathology can be a primary factor in seizure patterns, or it can trigger seizures associated with other pathologies, such as phlegm or deficiency. Seizures associated with Liver pathology often have an emotional aspect, and they can be triggered by emotional upset or be more frequent during times of increased stress.
Diet, Medications, Drugs
Poor dietary habits, such as consuming excessive amounts of cold, raw foods or following restrictive, inadequate diets, can weaken the Spleen and deplete qi. Additionally, anticonvulsant medications used to treat seizures are cold in nature and can damage the Spleen and worsen phlegm accumulation over time. As a result, Spleen weakness can lead to qi and blood deficiency, which can cause a mild form of wind by failing to anchor yang qi securely.
Overeating, or consuming a diet high in rich, sweet, phlegm- and heat-producing foods, can also lead to the accumulation of phlegm-heat in the body. This is made worse by heavy alcohol consumption. A constitutional tendency towards wind and phlegm can be induced or triggered by acquired phlegm-heat. Prolonged or heavy use of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine, as well as the lifestyle associated with drug use (lack of sleep and dehydration), can seriously deplete Kidney yin and ultimately essence, predisposing people to ascendant yang and wind.
Birth trauma such as head trauma, anoxia, cerebral infection, infarction or hemorrhage can trigger seizures. Trauma-induced seizures may possibly also result from a severe fright or shock that the mother experienced during pregnancy. Trauma of this kind can damage the delicate fetal essence, cause blood stasis, or disrupt the Heart-Kidney axis.
During a major seizure, the best thing to do for the person experiencing it is to move them away from any potential danger or objects that could cause injury and to cushion their head if possible. It may also be helpful to loosen any tight clothing.
There are several known triggers for seizures in some people, and it is best to avoid these triggers as much as possible. These triggers can include lack of sleep, emotional stress, physical and mental exhaustion, drug or alcohol use, exposure to strong smells or volatile chemicals, fever, and flickering lights such as those from television screens, strobe lights, and fluorescent tubes.
Chinese medical treatment for seizures involves several strategies. For an acute seizure associated with intense heat, the goal is to clear the heat as quickly as possible. For recurrent seizures, treatment focuses on dispersing phlegm, extinguishing wind, sedating yang, and clearing heat between episodes. At this stage, the treatment is the same regardless of whether the seizures are yang or yin and focuses on eliminating pathogens and restraining yang. As the disease comes under control and seizures become less frequent, treatment is then tailored to the underlying causes and the person's constitution to help further control seizures and improve their overall well-being.