Saving the Day When a Seizure Occurs

National Epilepsy Awareness Month stresses seizure first aid

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

If someone nearby began to have a seizure, would you know how to react? National Epilepsy Awareness Month aims to highlight the proper steps and raise public awareness about epilepsy.

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. But what is epilepsy? And how should you react if someone near you has a seizure?

Epilepsy Explained

In epilepsy, abnormal electrical activity in the brain can cause seizures. Seizures are events that may cause convulsions, confusion and loss of consciousness.

In an interview with dailyRx News, Sadat A. Shamim, MD, director of Inpatient Neurology and Neurophysiology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, explained that seizures may look very different from patient to patient.

"Patients can have varying frequency and severity of seizures," Dr. Shamim said. "Many epilepsy patients live very normal lives, while others must make significant adjustments in their lifestyle."

Although seizures can vary in intensity, the Mayo Clinic notes that they can be especially dangerous when they occur at certain times — like when the patient is swimming or driving a vehicle.

Epilepsy in the US

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 2.3 million adults and 450,000 children in the US have epilepsy. The condition can develop at any point, but it most often appears in young children and adults older than 60.

The CDC also estimated that about 150,000 new cases of epilepsy are diagnosed each year in the US — and 1 in 26 people is diagnosed with the condition at some point.

The medical costs to treat epilepsy and the cost of patients' lost hours at work amount to an estimated $15.5 billion annually in the US.

What to Do When Seizures Strike

Because epilepsy is fairly common, everyone should know how to react when a seizure occurs. The CDC stressed that the key to seizure first aid is keeping the patient safe until the seizure stops.

"Prevent injury by clearing the area around the person of anything hard or sharp," the CDC suggests in an article on its website. "Ease the person to the floor and put something soft and flat, like a folded jacket, under his head."

It is not necessary to try to restrain patients or their movements — nor is it necessary to put anything in their mouths to protect the tongue.

The CDC recommended turning the person gently to one side to keep the airways clear. If possible, remove anything that might make breathing difficult for the patient — like ties or jewelry around the neck.

"Some patients will wake up quickly after the seizure stops while others will sleep for a period of time and gradually wake up with resolving confusion," Dr. Shamim said. "It is good to verbally orient the patient calmly and to hide embarrassing circumstances such as covering them if they were incontinent. One should not be confrontational or forceful with a confused patient and they should be allowed to walk and move about within a safe area."

Despite the sometimes frightening nature of seizures, they often pass without serious harm.

"Although a seizure can be a dramatic experience for the on-looker, often feeling long and exhausting, most seizures are self limited lasting only seconds to minutes," Dr. Shamim said.

Dr. Shamim recommended that epilepsy patients visit the hospital after each seizure. Call 911 if the patient has never had a seizure before or if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, he said.

Review Date: 
November 8, 2014