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What are Drop Attacks?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Drop attacks are a type of fall which are most commonly experienced by elderly people. In a drop attack, also called a drop attack seizure, the person feels as though their legs have spontaneously given way, and he or she falls to the ground. Drop attacks do not involve a loss of consciousness, and are different from fainting fits and from the type of seizures which characterize epilepsy.

Drop attacks may occur in susceptible individuals at any time while they are moving or standing still, and are not always preceded by physical exertion. Unless he or she is injured during the fall, a person who experiences a drop attack will recover fully within just a few minutes of the attack. The drop attack itself is not a medical condition; instead it is a symptom of a medical condition.

Someone who begins experiencing drop attack seizures will generally undergo a variety of medical tests for diagnostic purposes. These include blood and urine tests, a carotid ultrasound to check for arterial blockages, and an electrocardiogram to determine whether a cardiac condition may be involved. The most effective way to diagnose the cause of these attacks is with real-time monitoring, so that heart and brain events can be recorded at the time an attack takes place.

A variety of different medical problems may cause these attacks, including coronary thrombosis, heart arrhythmia, orthostatic hypertension, or atherosclerosis. In people who experience drop attacks around 12% are found to have a cardiac condition, 8% have poor brain circulation, 8% have a combination of heart and brain problems, 7% have seizures, and 5% have inner ear disorders. More than half do not receive a definitive diagnosis.

People who experience drop attacks are not at risk of injury or death as a result of the attacks themselves. Drop attack seizures do not increase the risk of stroke. The main risk is of injury due to the fall, particularly in older people with osteoporosis. The brittle bones that develop as a result of osteoporosis are vulnerable to fracture injuries from even minor falls. Therefore, even if the condition causing the attacks is not serious, it is still important to obtain treatment to prevent further attacks.

Treatment for drop attack seizures varies depending on the cause of the attacks. When a cardiac condition such as a heart arrhythmia is involved, medication or a pacemaker may treat the problem. If the attacks are caused by poor circulation in the brain, medication such as blood thinners or cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed. In some cases, surgery may be performed to remove arterial plaques.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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