Witnessing a seizure can be scary and it is important that you know what to do in case of the event. First, a seizure is normally caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain or by fainting (decrease in blood flow to the brain). The symptoms vary depending on the part of the brain involved, but often include unusual sensations, uncontrollable muscle spasms and loss of consciousness. Most people experience a blackout and wake up on the ground with no recollection of the occurrence. Often times a seizure has a warning sign called an aura. Aura symptoms include blurriness or vision loss, racing thoughts, weird stomach sensations, tingling, fear or panic, dizziness, headache, lightheadedness, nausea and numbness. But other times seizures come without warning and it happens suddenly. The seizure itself is a series of convulsions usually seen as sudden movements and blacking out. A seizure has physical symptoms and sensory feelings: blackout, sensory loss, confusion, out of body experience, fear/panic, difficulty talking, drooling, foot stomping, flailing body limbs, falling down, making sounds, shaking, stuttering and tremors. After the seizure, the person may appear to be waking from a trance and have memory loss of what has happened. They may be on the floor and people will often be looking to see if he or she is okay. The person often feels embarrassed, shameful, depressed, weak and scared. If the person is not known to have epilepsy, the episode is very scary.
In general, seizures may be caused by many conditions, diseases, injuries and other factors. These could include abnormalities in the blood vessels of the brain, atherosclerosis, bleeding into the brain, brain tumors, chromosomal abnormalities, pregnancy or problems with pregnancy, high blood pressure, stroke or transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke). Diseases such as advanced liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, diseases of the nervous system, meningitis, kidney failure and infections involving the brain are other factors that could cause a seizure. Further, injuries such as choking, head injuries from a motor vehicle accident or a sports injury, electrical injuries and poisonous insect bites or stings may cause seizures. Finally, alcohol withdrawal, craniotomy, very high fever, illegal drugs (i.e. cocaine), lead poisoning and withdrawal from medications are other known causes for seizures.
There are do’s and don’ts when it comes to caring for someone who is having a seizure, and knowing what they are can make a difference in the outcome. First and foremost, stay calm. Though there are many different types of seizures, in the worst-case scenario you may watch as the person shakes violently and turns blue. You may see saliva foam around his/her mouth, and witness the eyes rolling back. How you react may very well determine how well the person fares once the seizure is over. Next, it is important to ensure their safety. If the person is in a sitting or standing position when the seizure begins, you need to lower them to the floor. Placing a pillow or some type of small, soft object under the head can help prevent a head injury from occurring. You also need to loosen any tight clothing from around the neck, and roll the person onto the side if they begin to vomit (to prevent choking). If the person is unconscious, you’ll want to check the nose and outer area of the mouth to ensure nothing is blocking the airway. However, you NEVER want to place anything in the mouth, and just allow the person to have the seizure.
It is also important that you do not try to restrain the patient, as this can cause injury. You need to stay with the person until the seizure has passed. Make note of the length of time, what body parts were affected, what type of seizure it was and how many seizures were had consecutively. Be sure to talk to them – once the seizure is over, the person will regain consciousness slowly and will normally be disoriented for a few minutes. You need to be reassuring the person and asking simple questions such as his/her name and address, what year it is and who is the current President. These questions will help the person come around a bit quicker. Lastly, call for medical help. This is not always necessary, but there are certain situations when it is warranted. If it is the first seizure or the person was injured during the seizure, they will need to be examined. If it is a woman and she is pregnant, the seizure occurred in water or the seizure lasted longer than five minutes, the patient will require medical attention. Also, if the person had multiple seizures without regaining consciousness in between, they need to be seen by a doctor.
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Any age group can have seizures, even children. A seizure can be treated with daily medication. An exam is usually taken to see if the person has epilepsy or a brain disorder marked by seizures or convulsions. People who may have epilepsy have an EEG test, an electroencephalograph that reads electrical signals coming from the brain. Blood tests are taken to rule out other causes of the seizures. Finally, an MRI or Spinal Tap may be taken to test for other causes, especially if the seizure may have been caused by another condition. Epilepsy can limit activities for people with the brain disorder. If the seizures happen more often, the person should not drive, drink, or do drugs. If the person has a seizure while driving, or operating heavy machinery, then the effects could be devastating. If the seizures are less common or rare, then the person can live a less-affected life. People with epilepsy should wear a medical alert bracelet or carry ID in their wallet in case they have a seizure suddenly in a public place and will need assistance. Very rarely do serious conditions occur with epilepsy, but if the person experiences a series of close seizures, the lack of oxygen to the brain and organs may cause failure or damage that worsens the condition.