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Epilepsy - When To Call a Doctor

Seizures do not always require urgent care. But call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:

  • The person having a seizure stops breathing for longer than 30 seconds. After calling 911 or other emergency services, begin rescue breathing. For more information, see the topic Dealing With Emergencies.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 3 minutes. (The person may have entered a life-threatening state of prolonged seizure called status epilepticus.)
  • More than one seizure occurs within 24 hours.
  • The person having a seizure does not respond normally within 1 hour after the seizure or has any of the following symptoms:
    • Reduced awareness and wakefulness or is not fully awake
    • Confusion
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Dizziness
    • Inability to walk or stand
    • Fever
  • A seizure occurs after the person complains of a sudden, severe headache.
  • A seizure occurs with signs of a stroke, such as trouble speaking or understanding speech, loss of vision, and inability to move part or all of one side of the body.
  • A seizure follows a head injury.
  • A pregnant woman or a woman who has recently had a baby has a seizure. This could be a sign of preeclampsia (toxemia of pregnancy).
  • A person with diabetes has a seizure. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or very high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can cause seizures in a person who has diabetes.
  • A seizure occurs after eating poison or breathing fumes.

If you have a seizure for the first time or you witness someone having a seizure, call a doctor immediately. For more information, see the topic Seizures.

Recommended Related to Epilepsy

Understanding Epilepsy -- Prevention

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...

Read the Understanding Epilepsy -- Prevention article > >

If you have been diagnosed with epilepsy, call your doctor if:

  • Your seizures become more frequent or more severe.
  • A serious illness seems to be changing the normal pattern, frequency, length, or other features of your seizures.
  • The normal pattern or features of your seizures change. For example, you have never lost consciousness during a seizure before, but now you do. Or you have never fallen down during a seizure, but now this is happening.
  • You are taking antiepileptic medicine and the side effects seem more severe than expected. When you begin taking a medicine, talk to your doctor about what side effects you can expect and what problems might mean that your medicine levels are too high (drug toxicity). You may start having seizures more often if your medicine levels are too low.
  • You are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is appropriate if you have already been diagnosed with epilepsy and you have a seizure. But call your doctor right away if you have a second seizure within a short period of time or if your seizures have become more frequent or more severe. Your doctor may need to change the amount of medicine you take or try a different medicine.

If you know someone who has epilepsy, learn what to do when the person has a seizure.

Who to see

If you or your child has a seizure for the first time, contact your or your child's doctor to discuss the event and its potential cause. Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist. Your regular doctor may be able to supervise your epilepsy treatment after your seizures are under control.

People with epilepsy who have trouble controlling seizures and need special care, tests, or surgery can get help at epilepsy centers. The staff at epilepsy centers include doctors and other health professionals trained in treating people with this disorder.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 26, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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