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Date of last update: 10/04/2017.

Forum Name: Neurology Topics

Question: stop breathing from grand mal seizure while sleeping?

 goodtimes0216 - Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:38 pm

I'm 33 year old female and was diagnosed with T.L.E. over 4 years ago. My seizures were petite mal and not too big of a deal. Now I think I am having grand mal seizures. When I am sleeping I feel like I am in a bad dream because I cant breath, I cant move, and I cant open my eyes. I know I am in bed though and aware of my surroundings. I dismissed it as nightmares. Then I had one while I was at work. I felt the exact way i did when it happened at night. My friend who was with me said I was gasping for air, my eyes were rolled completely behind my head and I was shaking. It felt like a long time to me, but according to my friend it only lasted a minute or so. I was confused about my surroundings, i wasnt sure if i was home sleeping or at work. It was the first time it happened while awake. It happened during a neck x ray too. All of a sudden out of nowhere, I felt completely paralized and could feel my eyes rolling behind my head, the next thing I knew I was laying on a gerni(spelling?) This seems to happen only when I am really tired. It's a very scary feeling. Does this sound like my seizures have gotten worse? Is that normal? The part that scares me more than anything is not being able to breath during it. I don't understand how my seizures could get worse. I havent had any major head injuries or anything of that sort.
Thank you in advance for your help
 John Kenyon, CNA - Sun Nov 02, 2008 11:21 pm

User avatar Hello -

While your symptoms are somewhat unusual for either petit mal epilepsy or the other phenomenon I'm going to try and explain to you, I think in your case they are overlapping (and maybe they do so naturally but not so obviously, in others).

As I'm sure you know, petit mal episodes are also called "absence seizures" since the subject actually seems to be "absent" momentarily and often is unaware this is happening, simply losing a few moments out of their time here and there.

The other thing, which you describe to a "T", except for it happening while you are fully awake (more about why this could be happening in a bit). This other thing is exactly like a poorly understood phenomenon called sleep paralysis. This often is reported by otherwise "normal" people, and they describe it precisely as you have. They seem to wake up during the night, unable to move or breathe (this latter is almost certainly either momentary or only an impression, because eventually they do become "able" to breathe again, then move, get up, etc.). Since this happens to you when waking, and since it happens then when you are fatigued, there may be a very unusual combination of problems happening at once: narcolepsy (falling asleep sponaneously) or a partial seizure involving narcolepsy, and partial sleeping state, which triggers the sleep paralysis phenomenon, since you have actually decided to lie down and go to sleep, but have perhaps fallen partially asleep against your will due to the narcoleptic episodes.

I'm thinking that if someone who suffers from partial or petit mal seizures has her sleep disturbed enough (either due to the usual cause of sleep apnea, during which one actually does stop breathing for periods) and is subject to sleep paralysis as well, might wind up having this sort of involuntary loss of control of her body for moments at a time (it always seems much longer than it actually is in cases of sleep paralysis). If you were predisposed to petit mal attacks and also suffered from sleep apnea, you'd potentially be able to actually experience stoppage of breathing for brief periods, to feel awake (be aware of your surroundings, etc.), and even fall into this state (narcoleptic episodes) all in various random order.

I believe this is what's happened with you: that you suffer occasional petit mal episodes, and suspect you may either suffer from sleep apnea as well or suffer nocturnal seizures which disrupt your sleep in a fashion similar to sleep apnea. You should probably have another comprehensive neurological workup as well as a sleep study. I'm convinced there is some combination of these elements working in a very unusual (and no doubt really disturbing) way. Since it would be so rare and such an absurd coincidence, it would likely be overlooked as a possibility, but now that you have all these puzzle pieces to put together, I believe a good neurologist and/or pulmonologist may be able to figure this out and design a treatment plan that could relieve you of all this.

By the way, none of the conditions, individually nor collectively, are life-threatening, although sleep apnea can have long-term health effects if it persists for years without treatment (assuming that is a part of your particular puzzle) but it's not immediately dangerous.

I realize this is a very complex and speculative answer, but I am convinced that one or more of these conditions is overlapping in your experience, and that it can be resolved. I hope this is helpful to you. Best of luck, and please keep us updated here.

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