A seizure occurs when an abnormal electrical discharge occurs in the brain, disturbing its normal function. Seizures are typically associated with epilepsy; however, as many as one in twenty people may have a seizure at some point during their life.
The symptoms depend on the type of seizure that the person is having.
These may cause:
- The person to cry out, lose consciousness and fall to the ground
- Jerking of the arms and legs
- The lips to turn blue
- The person to froth at the mouth and if the tongue has been bitten, blood may trickle from the mouth
- The person may lose control of their bladder
- Are relatively rare and usually occur in children
- Can occur suddenly and provoke a trance-like state
- Affected children will stare blankly into space and fail to respond to anyone talking to them
- May or may not cause unconsciousness
- Can cause movement of the limbs, head or neck
- The person may become disorientated, pluck at clothing, smack their lips or wander about aimlessly
Most seizures do not last longer than a few minutes. If a seizure is prolonged or if there is a series of seizures over a period of time during which the person does not regain consciousness, this is referred to as status epilepticus. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
What to do
- If the person remains conscious, simply wait for it to pass. Reassure the person.
- If the person is wandering around aimlessly, you may need to guide them away from any potential danger.
- Stay with the person until they have come around properly and can get home safely.
You cannot prevent a person from having a seizure and there is no need to move the person unless they have fallen in a dangerous place (e.g., on a road, at the top of stairs).
However, there are a few things you can do to protect the person from injury:
- Clear a space around the person, moving away objects that could be harmful.
- Put something soft under their head to cushion it and prevent them from hitting it.
- Loosen any tight neckwear and remove any spectacles and high heel shoes if worn.
- Never put anything in their mouth.
- Do not attempt to restrain the convulsions – allow the seizure to take its course.
After the seizure:
Do not try to wake the person – let them come to in their own time.
- Stay with them – explain what has happened and reassure them.
- If the person is struggling for breath, put your fingers under the angles of their jaw and lift it forward. Gently check their mouth for any obstructions – e.g., dentures of tongue blocking the back of their throat. Roll the person onto their side and tilt the chin upwards.
- If the person stops breathing, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation may be required, but this does not occur very often.
You only need to call an ambulance if:
- The seizure lasts longer than five minutes
- The seizure lasts longer than is usual for the person involved
- The person has a series of seizures without regaining consciousness in between
- The person has injured themselves during the seizure.
There are several other conditions that can sometimes cause seizures. These require immediate medical attention and include:
- Brain infections
- Heat exhaustion, high fever
- Head injury
Find out more about epilepsy in the irishhealth.com Epilepsy Clinic