Tongue-biting, thrashing limbs, eyes rolled in the back of the head -- witnessing someone with epilepsy having a seizure can be truly frightening. But most seizures aren't an emergency. They stop on their own with no permanent ill effects.
There isn’t much you can do to stop a seizure once it starts. But there are simple steps you can take to protect someone from harm during a seizure. It's worth knowing some basic first aid -- and when it's time to call 911.
In someone with epilepsy, certain triggers can lead to a seizure. Identify and watch for particular behaviors, environments, or physical and emotional signs that precede attacks. It's not uncommon, for example, to feel annoyed or elated several hours prior to a grand mal seizure, and immediately before the attack.
In addition, the person may become aware of a warning "aura" -- perhaps a taste or smell: This warning may allow you to lie down in time to avoid falling. In cases where the aura is a...
Some are more dangerous than others. There are two main types:
Partial seizures start in a single part of the brain. The person with epilepsy is aware of what's happening. Her arm might start to move or her face start to twitch. And even though she’s awake and aware, she can't control it. She might seem to zone out or stare at nothing as the seizure becomes complex. Afterward, she won’t remember a thing.
Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain at once. People are rarely aware of what's happening. The most well-known type falls in this group -- the generalized tonic-clonic seizure, better known as a grand mal seizure. These are frightening to watch and can be an emergency. They have a set sequence of events:
The person may become unresponsive. She doesn’t answer if you call. She won’t react if you wave a hand in her face or shake her. She may suddenly collapse.
Her muscles clench and she becomes rigid as a board. This is the tonic phase. It lasts a few seconds.
Next, a series of jerking movements convulse her body. This is the clonic phase. It can last a few seconds or several minutes.
Eventually, the jerking stops and she regains consciousness. She may be confused or disoriented for a short period.
Any generalized seizure can be dangerous because the person is unaware of her surroundings and can't protect herself from harm. The uncontrolled thrashing movements during a generalized tonic-clonic seizure increase the chances of injury. This type is most likely to result in a trip to the emergency room.