Spotting Seizures

How to respond if someone is having a seizure

(RxWiki News) Researchers are hard at work trying to develop new medical devices to help recognize seizures, but in the meantime, you can learn to spot seizures to help keep your family and friends safe.

Movies and TV shows make many people believe that all seizures look the same and are very recognizable, but that isn't always the case. Some seizures are more subtle.

Read on to learn more about seizures, how to recognize them and how to respond to them.

The Causes of Seizures

The first thing most people think of when they think of seizures is epilepsy. This disorder, which is caused by abnormal nerve cell activity in the brain, causes relatively frequent seizures. However, it's not the only cause.

Many other factors and conditions can cause seizures, including withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, very high fevers and traumatic brain injuries.

How to Spot Seizures

Seizures are grouped into two categories: focal and generalized. These two categories encompass the more than 30 types of seizures. Different seizure types can produce different symptoms, but most seizures can cause problems with movement and changes in awareness.

The following are some common types of focal seizures and their symptoms:

  • Simple focal seizures: A strange smell, taste, feeling in the stomach or other change in sensation, as well as jerking movements, could indicate this type.
  • Complex focal seizures: This type of seizure causes confusion and an inability to communicate, as well as moving around without purpose or direction.
  • Secondary generalized seizures: This type of seizure originates in one part of the brain and spreads, and it can cause multiple seizure-like symptoms.

Below are some common types of generalized seizures:

  • Tonic-clonic seizures: This is the most commonly recognized seizure type. It is marked by the person crying out, falling down, experiencing muscle spasms or losing consciousness.
  • Absence seizures: People experiencing this type of seizure may blink rapidly and stare into space.

What to Do When Someone Is Having a Seizure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seizures aren't always emergencies, but it's still important to keep the person safe. Most seizures only last a few minutes.

The CDC recommends providing care and comfort to the person, as well as doing the following:

  • Carefully move the person to the floor and lay him or her onto one side.
  • Clear the area around the person of any sharp or otherwise dangerous objects.
  • Place something soft and somewhat flat under his or her head.
  • Remove eyeglasses and anything around the neck that could hinder breathing, such as neckties.

If the seizure lasts for more than five minutes, call 911, the CDC advises. According to the agency, you should also call for emergency medical help if the person has a health condition like heart disease or is pregnant; the seizure occurs in the water; the person is hurt during the seizure; the person has a second seizure soon after the original one; the person has trouble walking or breathing afterward; or if the person has never had a seizure before.

The CDC notes that you should never put anything into the mouth of someone who is having a seizure; the common warning about seizures causing people to swallow their tongue is a myth. You should not hold the person down, try to restrict his or her movement, give mouth-to-mouth breaths or give the person food or water until he or she is fully alert, according to the CDC.

Ask your health care provider for more information on how to spot and respond to seizures.

Review Date: 
October 31, 2017