When a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they have epilepsy, which affects more than 2 million people in the United States and 65 million people worldwide. This year, another 150,000 people in our country will be diagnosed with epilepsy. Despite all available treatments, four out of 10 people with epilepsy continue to experience uncontrolled seizures while many more experience less than optimal seizure control.
What should I do if I have a seizure?
What should I do if I see someone else have a seizure?
These are the two most common questions for people living with epilepsy. Nothing is more difficult than feeling helpless when a seizure occurs. This section will help you be prepared to respond to seizures safely and appropriately.
Think of 3 key areas of seizure first aid.
- Care and Comfort First Aid: General first aid for all seizure types to keep someone safe.
- Tailoring First Aid: Specific steps for different seizure types.
- Responding to Seizures – Interventions for out of hospital use: First aid steps to help stop or shorten a seizure or prevent an emergency situation. This may involve giving a rescue treatment (often called “as needed” medicine or treatment) that has been recommended by your health care team. The rescue treatments described here can be given by non-medical people who are not in a hospital setting. They are intended for use by anyone (the person with seizures, family member or other observer) who has been trained in their use. These therapies can be given anywhere in the community. A hospital or medical setting is not needed when these are given in the manner described.
Use this section to learn what to do and how to give seizure first aid to someone having a seizure. Then develop a Seizure Response Plan which will help others follow these same steps.
Reading what to do is not the same as learning how to do it. Make sure you practice seizure first aid by developing ‘seizure drills’ for you and your family. It is critical that you and anyone who may be with you during a seizure know what to do and how to give these treatments correctly and safely.
(from epilepsy.com, Epilepsy Foundation of America)
A complete medical exam and testing are needed to distinguish epilepsy from other disorders.
If you experience a seizure for the first time, seek medical advice.
Seek immediate medical help if any of the following occurs during a seizure:
- The seizure lasts more than five minutes.
- Breathing or consciousness doesn’t return after the seizure stops.
- A second seizure follows immediately.
- You have a high fever.
- You’re experiencing heat exhaustion.
- You’re pregnant.
- You have diabetes
- You’ve injured yourself during the seizure.
What are the signs and symptoms of a seizure?
Focal, or partial seizures appear to result from abnormal activity in just one area of the brain. There are two categories of focal seizures:
Focal seizures without loss of consciousness (simple partial seizures). Symptoms could include altered emotions or a change in the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound. They may also result in involuntary jerking of a body part, such as an arm or leg, and spontaneous sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness and flashing lights.
Focal dyscognitive seizures (complex partial seizures). These seizures involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. During a complex partial seizure, you may stare into space and not respond normally to your environment or perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles.
What about a Grand Mal Seizure?
Generalized tonic clonic seizures used to be commonly known as grand mal seizures and are the most common and best known type of generalized seizure. They begin with stiffening of the limbs (the tonic phase), followed by jerking of the limbs and face (the clonic phase)
Some people experience only the tonic, or stiffening phase of the seizure; others have only the clonic or jerking movements; still others may have a tonic-clonic-tonic pattern.
Incontinence may occur as a result of the seizure. The tongue or inside of the mouth may be bitten during the episode; breathing afterwards may be noisy and appear to be labored. Contrary to popular belief, nothing should be placed in the mouth during the seizure; turning the patient on one side will help prevent choking and keep the airway clear.
Following the seizure, the patient will be lethargic, possibly confused, and want to sleep. Headache sometimes occurs. Full recovery takes minutes to hours, depending on the individual.
If I have a seizure, then it’s epilepsy for sure?
Not always. Other neurological conditions may look the same. You must see a healthcare professional as soon as possible if you have had a seizure and/or continue to experience any of the symptoms described above.