A seizure is not only scary for the person experiencing it, but it’s also terrifying for the people who may be witnessing the epileptic attack. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about this neurological brain disorder.
Overview of Epilepsy & Seizures
You probably already know that epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes “unprovoked seizures.” These are sometimes characterized by uncontrollable movements, changes in sensation, or loss of consciousness.
The exact cause of a seizure is not always known (a term called “idiopathic”), but it can be caused by low blood sugar, a chemical imbalance, a stroke, or even drug and alcohol abuse. People can also be born with an epileptic condition that’s passed down from a parent, or they may have seizures due to neurological damage from a brain injury.
Sometimes called “electrical storms in the brain,” seizures can take on many forms, but they all have a beginning, middle, and an end.
Beginning: Aura Phase
Before a seizure occurs, some people experience a change in feelings, thoughts, or behavior. This experience is known as an “aura” and it can be a warning sign of an impending epileptic attack. Some people with epilepsy never experience an aura, in which case a seizure may begin unexpectedly with loss of consciousness or awareness.
Middle: Ictal Phase
The ictal phase, or middle of a seizure, starts after the first seizure symptom (including an aura) and is characterized by both physical as well as emotional changes. Although symptoms may vary, some people experience:
- Black outs
- Hearing loss
- Blurry vision
- Numbness or tingling sensations in the body
- Unusual smells or tastes
- Difficulty speaking
- Rapid eye blinking
- Violent tremors or twitching
- Difficulty breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Heart racing
End: Postictal Phase
As the seizure starts to dissipate, the body enters the “postictal phase,” or the recovery stage. Some people feel normal again immediately after the seizure while others may take several minutes or even hours to fully recover. Common symptoms after a seizure may include:
- Memory loss
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Frustration or embarrassment
- Physical injuries from falling (e.g. bruises, cuts, broken bones, etc.)
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
Common Seizure Triggers
Certain situations can make some people more prone to seizures, while others may have them without a known cause. If recognized early these so-called “seizure triggers” can help epileptics take precautions to limit the chances of having an attack. In general, some of the most common seizure triggers include:
- Lack of sleep
- Failing to take epilepsy medication
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Flashing or flickering lights (photosensitive epilepsy)
- Menstruation (periods)
In America, it’s estimated that more than 1 out of 100 people (1 percent) have epilepsy. That’s about 2.7 million Americans! While the numbers may seem surprising, epilepsy can be treated with medication (anticonvulsant drugs) and changes in a person’s lifestyle. These treatment methods are effective in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures, but there are still about 30 percent of epileptics who cannot fully control their condition.
Although it’s less common, some people may have surgery for epilepsy if they don’t respond to medication. In most cases, this can reduce or eliminate seizures, but the procedure requires a surgeon to remove parts of the brain. Other treatment options include diet as well as electrical stimulation.
If you or someone you know has epilepsy, you can download free mobile apps to your smartphone to help you manage and track your condition. The Seizure Log by Seizure Tracker, LLC, for example, is a free tool you can use to keep a record of your seizures, and you can even record them with video so you can show your doctor. Epilepsy Tool Kit by MCM Net Limited is another mobile app for people who have epilepsy and it features a medication reminder, seizure diary, as well as other helpful resources.
What to Do When Someone Is Having a Seizure
You should contact an emergency center right away if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if a person has a second seizure shortly after the first. Also, if the person cannot be awakened after the seizure, then you should seek medical attention immediately.
In general, it’s best not to restrain a person or put anything in his or her mouth during a seizure. Instead, here are few things you can do:
- Loosen ties, shirt collars, scarfs, or any other articles of clothing around the person’s neck
- Remove any items that may cause possible injury, such as glass or sharp objects
- Move the person away from dangerous areas such as a fire, a balcony, or traffic
- Calm the person by talking to him or her and encourage bystanders to stay back
- If the person is on the ground, place a cushion behind his or her head to protect against head trauma
- After the seizure has ended, turn the person on his or her side to keep an open airway