Affecting 2.2 million people in the United States today, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological problem; only migraines, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease rank higher. When talking globally, that number rises to 65 million people who suffer from epilepsy. With such a prevalent occurrence of the condition, it is likely that you know someone who might have epilepsy. Would you know what to do if that person suffered a seizure in front of you? It might help to understand what it is like to live with the disease.
A neurological disorder that affects the nervous system, epilepsy is sometimes referred to as a seizure disorder. Diagnosis usually comes after a person has had two seizures, at least 24 apart, that are not due to some other medical condition. These seizures are caused by electrical activity in the brain. Although sometimes this can be attributed to an injury of the brain, most of the time the cause cannot be determined.
Most of the time, people living with epilepsy lead seemingly normal lives. Some people go months or even years between seizures. While there are many therapies that help epilepsy patients, epilepsy does affect daily life for the patient as well as their loved ones. The severity of seizures and the effects from them can range from more mild to severe. For many people who suffer from epilepsy, emotional and behavioral problems are experienced. While some of these emotional issues stem from frustration or embarrassment of living with epilepsy, sadly, other times it is the result of bullying or teasing. As these patients are already living with an increased risk of poor self esteem and depression, awareness and support from friends and family are imperative to coping with the disorder.
The seizures that characterize epilepsy come in many different shapes and forms. There is no “standard” or “typical” seizure. Lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes, seizures can come with convulsions and shaking, the most commonly thought of symptoms, but can also show as things like lip smacking, chewing and fidgeting. Some epilepsy patients experience more than one type of seizure as well. While we know that seizures are the result of electric activity in the brain, there are some known triggers. Being aware of them might help patients reduce the chance of having a seizure.
Some of the known triggers include:
- Flashing or flickering lights or patterns
- Extreme stress
- Tiredness or lack of sleep
- Alcohol, some drugs or not taking their medication
Now that you know some of the triggers that could bring on a seizure, what would you, or more importantly should you, do if someone suffered a seizure in front of you? First and foremost, stay calm. If the person is pregnant or if it is the first seizure, call 911. If they are standing, try to prevent them from falling and move away objects that may hurt the person. DO NOT try to hold the person down or put anything in their mouth. If the seizure lasts more than three minutes, call 911.
After the seizure is over, check for injuries, loosen tight clothing and provide a safe area where they can rest. Do not give them anything to eat or drink and stay with the person until they are awake and any confusion wears off.
While seeing someone have a seizure can be very frightening, it is good to know these tips in case you are ever confronted with this situation. Knowing what to do, and that seizures last only a short time and then everything should go back to normal, is an added level of comfort for patient and loved ones alike. For a complete list of steps to take if someone has a convulsive seizure in front of you, please click here.