Seizures & Epilepsy: What You Need to Know

Published on Sep 20, 2013
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

Approximately 1 in 10 people worldwide will experience a seizure at some time in their life. Seizures may occur when there is a sudden surge of electrical activity or anything that interrupts normal activity in the brain.

“During a seizure, a victim can look confused, may behave oddly, or lose consciousness,” according to Margaret Frazer, MD, Pfizer Medical Director. “Seizures can also cause the body to jerk all over or just in certain parts.”

Although there are many different types of seizures, they are typically divided into two broad categories: generalized seizures (involving the entire brain) and focal or partial-onset seizures (produced by activity in a small area of the brain, at least initially). A generalized seizure can cause a loss of consciousness, falls, or massive muscle spasms (convulsions). A partial or focal seizure can cause a range of symptoms, from uncontrolled movements to strange sensations, and often may progress to a generalized seizure. Another type of seizure, called an absence seizure, is quite different and is most often seen in children. In an absence seizure, the child may remain conscious but appear inattentive for the short duration of the seizure.

When someone experiences two or more seizures for no obvious reason, a doctor may diagnose epilepsy. Over 2 million people in the United States have epilepsy.

If you have even one seizure, you should tell your doctor about it. In order to share as clear a description of the event as possible, gather as much information as you can from anyone who may have witnessed the seizure. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about any other recent symptoms or health concerns. Your doctor can use this information to determine possible causes of the seizure, and, if necessary, to work with you on creating an individualized plan that may help keep seizures under control.

How to Help Someone Suffering a Seizure

What should you do if you see someone who may be having a generalized seizure?

  • Stay calm and time the seizure. “Seizures can look really scary, so it may feel like someone is suffering a seizure for a long time,” says Dr. Frazer. “But most seizures only last seconds or a couple of minutes.” If the person’s seizure lasts longer than two to five minutes, you should call for emergency help.
  • Ease the person to the floor. If the person having the seizure hasn’t already fallen to the ground, try to ease them onto the floor, so they won’t fall abruptly and get hurt.
  • Loosen clothing or jewelry around the neck. This can help keep the person’s airway open.
  • Turn the victim on his or her side. It’s important to keep the person having a seizure from inhaling any fluids or choking.
  • Don’t try to stop the person from having a seizure, and never try to force anything into the mouth or hold the tongue down.
  • Stay with them until the seizure stops. “When they awaken, they may not know what happened at first,” says Dr. Frazer. Stay with the person until they are no longer groggy or confused.
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