Seizure First Aid

What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder affecting about two in 100 people. Three out of four cases of epilepsy begin in childhood.

A seizure is caused when more than the usual amount of electrical energy passes through the brain. The portion of the brain affected by this "overload" causes temporary changes in body movement, consciousness and behavior.

Epilepsy is not contagious, it is not a disease. It can be caused by head injury, auto accidents, severe illnesses, tumors and other health conditions.

Recognition of seizure disorders and knowledge of first aid is important because it is very easy to mistake some seizures for other conditions.

Could it be Epilepsy?
Only a physician can say for sure whether or not a person has epilepsy. But many people miss the more subtle signs of the condition and therefore also miss the opportunity for early diagnosis and treatment.

The symptoms listed below are not necessarily indicators of epilepsy, and may be caused by some other, unrelated condition. If one or more is present, however, a medical check-up is recommended:

  • Periods of blackout or confused memory
  • Occasional ýfainting spellsţ in which bladder or bowel control is lost, followed by extreme fatigue
  • Episodes of blank staring in children; brief periods when there is no response to questions or instructions
  • Sudden falls for no apparent reason
  • Episodes of blinking or chewing at inappropriate times
  • A convulsion, with or without fever
  • Frequent jerking movements in babies

How many are there?
There are over 30 types of seizures classified into three major categories:

  1. Partial ˝ arise in a specific portion of the brain
  2. Generalized ˝ both hemispheres of the brain
  3. Unclassified ˝ inadequate/incomplete data available. The most common seizure types are generalized tonic-clonic, absence and complex partial seizure.

Generalized Tonic-Clonic
Formally known as the ýgrand malţ seizure, this is a convulsive seizure affecting the whole body. The seizure may start with a crying out. The person falls, becomes unconscious and his body stiffens, followed by jerking motions. The person slowly regains consciousness but is tired and confused. The seizure usually lasts 2-4 minutes.

Absence Seizures
Formally called "petit mal," it is the most common in children. There is no aura before the seizure. The seizure consists of brief loss of consciousness (10-20 seconds). Staring and blinking is associated with this type of seizure, dozens or even hundreds may occur each day. They may be mistaken for day dreaming.

Complex Partial Seizures
Formally known as "psychomotor" or "temporal lobe" seizure. It is accompanied by an aura or "warning." During the seizure, a person may have a glassy stare give no response, move aimlessly, make lip smacking or chewing motions, may appear intoxicated, drugged or psychotic. There may be struggle or fighting of restraint.

First Aid for Seizures in special circumstances
A seizure in water – If a seizure occurs in water, this person should be supported in the water with the head tilted so his face and head stay above the surface. He should be removed from the water as quickly as possible with the head in this position. He should be examined once on dry land.

A seizure on public transportation – Ease the person across a double or triple seat. Turn him on his side, and follow the same steps as indicated above. If he wishes to do so, there is no reason why a person who has fully recovered from a seizure cannot complete thee trip to his destination.

Is an Emergency Room visit needed?
An uncomplicated convulsive seizure in someone who has epilepsy is not a medical emergency, even though it looks like one. It stops naturally after a few minutes without ill effects. The average person is able to continue with his normal activities after a rest period, and may need only limited assistance or no assistance at all, in getting home.

There are several medical conditions other than epilepsy, however, that can cause seizures. These require immediate medical attention and include:

  • Diabetes
  • Brain infections
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Pregnancy
  • Poisoning
  • Hypoglycemia
  • High fever
  • Head injury

Is an ambulance needed?
If the seizure has happened in water
If there is no medical I.D., and no way of knowing whether the seizure is caused by epilepsy
If the person is pregnant, injured or diabetic
If the seizure continues for more than five minutes
If a second seizure starts shortly after the first ends
If consciousness does not return after the shaking has stopped.

Educational Clicks

What is Epilepsy? Diagnostic Tests Treatment OptionsCommon MedicationsSeizure First Aid FAQ about IEPs

The Mission of the Epilepsy Center of Northwest Ohio is to improve the lives of people affected by epilepsy and those with developmental disabilities.

People with epilepsy and those with developmental disabilities will attain the highest quality of life and gain full acceptance and understanding from the community.

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