What Is Occipital Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can be experienced by individuals of all ages. It affects the brain and causes frequent seizures. 

Seizures are bursts of electrical activity originating in the brain that can affect how the brain functions for short periods. There is a wide range of symptoms that can cause seizures. 

Epilepsy can develop at any time during a person's life. However, it will usually develop in childhood or among people over 60. 

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What is occipital epilepsy?

Epilepsy is classified depending on the region where seizures occur in the brain. Occipital lobe epilepsy is a rarer version of epilepsy, accounting for usually between 5-10% of epileptic seizures.¹

Because occipital epilepsy involves unusual electrical activity in the occipital lobe, it’s not surprising that it can cause visual symptoms.  

These types of seizures often manifest as visual hallucinations. It can begin in one hemisphere of the brain and can spread to the other. This can be a little distressing, so it is good to be aware of your condition and know what to expect. 

It is also important to let loved ones know about your condition, so they can support you when these symptoms arise. 

It’s important to note that these seizures can often be mistaken for migraines. The easiest way to tell the difference is to notice the duration. Usually, migraines last longer, between five to fifteen minutes or more, and visual seizures often only last about two minutes. 

This disorder involves focal seizures in the occipital lobe at the rear of the brain. 

Chronic occipital epilepsy may be caused by various pathologies, including:

  • Tumors

  • Malformations of cortical development

  • Vascular lesions 

  • Rare chronic epilepsy syndromes (including Sturge-Weber syndrome)

Usually, the onset of occipital seizures ranges from early childhood to age 40, but it can occur at any point in life. Because seizures originate from the occipital region of the brain, they can be sudden and spontaneous, and they are often visual in nature.  

Potential causes of occipital epilepsy 

Occipital epilepsy can be congenital, resulting from a defect at birth. It can also be hereditary, and many people with occipital lobe epilepsy also have a family member with the same condition. Thankfully, this means families are more aware of the condition and know how to help.

Symptoms

There are several symptoms associated with occipital epilepsy. 

Many common symptoms include:

  • Visual hallucinations

  • Fleeting visual manifestations (flashing colors or lights)

  • Objects appear distorted 

  • Tinnitus

  • Vertigo 

As with all types of seizures, occipital seizures can be scary for the individual. In most cases, you should seek medical attention after all seizures, especially if it’s the first one. 

Visual center

The occipital lobe is in the rear region of the head. Its role is to process visual information that enters through the retinas in the eye. Making sense of these visual stimuli occurs in the primary visual cortex. 

There are multiple names for this region, including Brodmann area 17 or V1.

There are some key roles the occipital lobe plays. By performing the function of processing visual information, the occipital lobe permits:

  • Distance, size, and depth assessment

  • Color determination

  • Memory formation 

  • Helping the brain map out and understand the visual world

  • Reading

When to visit a doctor

If you suspect you or a loved one has a seizure, it's important to see a doctor. They can help diagnose the individual, determine whether it was an occipital seizure, and come up with a treatment plan. 

Also, because occipital epilepsy seizures can have similar symptoms to other disorders, discussing these symptoms with a doctor may help determine underlying symptoms.

The lowdown

Occipital epilepsy is a rare form of epilepsy characterized by focal sensory visual seizures. Common symptoms include visual hallucinations, distortion when viewing objects, and vertigo. It is important to seek medical advice as soon as you or a loved one experiences a seizure.

  1. Focal epilepsy | Johns Hopkins Medicine

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