Jameela Jamil, star of The Good Place, joked in a new interview about being accident prone—to the point where she ended up with seizures.
“There was a biscuit on the ground—I have a strict 30-day rule,” she recently told People, laughing. “I went to pick up the cookie off the ground to have with my coffee on my bed and I knocked myself out on the corner of my table.” Jamil said she “got a concussion that was so bad that I developed seizures for, like, two months.” However, she added, “I’m fine now.”
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain’s ability to function.
People usually get concussions from a blow to the head, the Mayo Clinic explains. That could be on a sports field, in a car accident, or banging your head really, really hard on something in your house, like a table.
The symptoms of a concussion can include a headache, confusion, amnesia around the event that caused the concussion, dizziness, a ringing in their ears, nausea and vomiting, slurred speech, and fatigue. You might also experience some delayed symptoms, such as memory issues, irritability, sensitivity to light and noise, trouble sleeping, depression, and differences in taste and smell, the Mayo Clinic says.
These symptoms can be pretty subtle and may take hours or days after the injury to show up. In some cases, a concussion can cause you to lose consciousness, the Mayo Clinic says, while others are so mild you don't even know it happened.
Although Jamil's situation may seem like a medical anomaly, it's true that concussions can cause seizures in severe cases.
A seizure—which is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in your brain—can cause changes in your behavior, movements, or feelings, and levels of consciousness, the Mayo Clinic says. A seizure may be characterized by strange body movements (like stiffening or shaking of the limbs), chewing or lip smacking behaviors, unresponsiveness or staring, or changes in taste or smell.
There are many reasons why someone might have a seizure, and experiencing a head injury like Jamil did is one of them. "Having a seizure after a concussion means that the concussion was pretty severe," Santosh Kesari, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells SELF.
Anything that disrupts the nerve cells (neurons) in your brain can cause seizures, Dr. Kaufman says. Normally these neurons communicate with each other to create, send, and receive electrical impulses that affect your behavior. If these pathways have been damaged, like from a concussion, it could result in electrical changes in the brain that result in seizures.
Of course, not everyone who has a concussion ends up experiencing seizures; the type of concussion you experienced matters, David Kaufman, D.O., professor and chair of the Michigan State University Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology, tells SELF. “It would be quite rare after a sports concussion,” Dr. Kaufman says. “But after a high velocity automobile accident where a passenger was unrestrained and struck their head, seizures are all too common.”
Another possible predictor of whether a person will develop seizures after a concussion is whether they pass out when injured, Alan G. Shepard, M.D., a neurologist and concussion expert at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, tells SELF. “A concussion with loss of consciousness or bleeding in the brain has a higher risk of seizures,” he notes.
Luckily, most people who develop seizures after a concussion don't end up dealing with them for too long. It's estimated that only 25 percent of people who have an early-stage seizure after a concussion (within the first week of the injury) go on to have another seizure months or years later. But if you do experience another seizure later on, you're much more likely to keep getting them.
If you start having seizures—whether or not they're associated with a concussion—you need to have someone take you to your doctor or the ER.
Once your doctor determines that your seizures are related to your concussion and not an underlying disease, they’ll usually put you on an anti-seizure medication like levetiracetam or lamotrigine, Dr. Kaufman says.
It's possible to have just one seizure after a concussion, but it's also possible to have more than one, Dr. Kesari says—and seizures are really not something you want to brush off. If your tests don’t show any other brain abnormality, your doctor will probably recommend that you stay on the medication for six months, Dr. Kaufman says. Then, they’ll likely run imaging tests again and give you a trial period without the medication to see how you do. If you don’t have seizures after that, you should be good to go.
And, of course, you should see a doctor any time you think you might have a concussion, Dr. Shephard says, especially if you passed out.