Seizure: New Onset with Unknown Cause (Adult)

You've had a seizure. A seizure happens when a surge of random, uncontrolled electrical activity occurs in the brain. A seizure can have many causes. Often it’s not possible to figure out the exact cause of a seizure from a single exam. You might need other tests. Having 1 seizure doesn’t mean that you will continue to have seizures. It doesn't mean that you have epilepsy. But until your healthcare provider knows the cause of your seizure, you're at risk for another seizure. Having 1 seizure without a known cause puts you at higher risk of having another seizure, especially in the next 2 years.

Home care

Follow these tips when caring for yourself at home:

  • Seizures aren’t predictable. Don't do anything that might cause danger to you or other people if you have another one. Don’t drive, ride a bike, climb ladders, or operate dangerous equipment.

  • Don’t take a bath alone. Take a shower instead.

  • Don’t swim alone until your healthcare provider says that you're no longer in danger of having another seizure.

  • Tell your close friends and relatives about your seizure. Teach them what to do for you if it happens again.

  • If medicine was prescribed to prevent seizures, take it exactly as directed. It doesn't work when taken as needed. Missing doses will increase your risk of having another seizure.

  • Follow a regular sleep schedule so you'll get at least 6 to 8 hours of restful sleep every night. This is especially important when you're sick and have a cold, flu, or another type of infection.

  • Don't have alcoholic drinks until your provider says it's OK. Don't ever use illegal drugs.

  • Each state has different laws about driving if you've had a seizure. Ask your provider if you can drive.

  • Think about wearing ID (identification) to alert others that you're at risk of seizures. This could be an ID bracelet or necklace.

For future seizures, if you're alone:

If you feel a seizure coming on, lie down on a bed or on the floor with something soft under your head. This will keep you from falling. Lie on your left side, not on your back. This will let fluid drain out of your mouth and prevent choking. Be sure you are not near any objects that might injure you during the seizure. Call 911 if you can.

For future seizures, if someone is with you:

The person should help you get into a safe position. Then they should call 911. The person shouldn’t try to force anything in your mouth once the seizure begins. This could harm your teeth or jaw. They shouldn't put their fingers near your mouth. You may accidentally bite them.

After a seizure, you may be drowsy or confused. The person should stay with you until you're fully awake. The person shouldn’t offer you anything to eat or drink during that time. Call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Follow-up care

  • Follow up with your healthcare provider as advised.

  • You may need other tests to help find out what caused your seizure. These tests may include brain wave tests (EEG) or brain scans (MRI or CT scans).

  • Keep a seizure calendar to record how often you have a seizure.

  • If you are on anti-seizure medicine, make sure that you use more than 1 type of birth control. Seizure medicine can affect how well birth control pills work, and you could become pregnant.

  • Let your provider know if you plan to get pregnant or if you become pregnant.

  • Don't drink alcohol until your provider tells you it’s OK.

  • Don't use recreational drugs.

For your own safety and for the safety of others on the road, some states require that healthcare providers tell the Public Health Department about any adult who's treated for a seizure and is at risk of more seizures. Then the Department of Motor Vehicles will be told. A restriction will be put on your driver’s license. This stays until a provider gives you medical clearance to drive again. Contact your provider to find out if your state requires this process.


Don't drive until you've followed up with your healthcare provider and you've been cleared to drive.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Another seizure

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Abnormal irritability, drowsiness, or confusion

  • Headache or neck pain that gets worse

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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