Most people have heard of or seen seizures – at least in the movies if not real life. They can be dangerous, and also distressing for the casualty and witnesses around. By learning how we can help someone who is having a seizure, we can help keep them safe, recognize when they need further medical treatment and also make sure we don’t do anything to make the situation worse.
What is a seizure?
Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works. They can cause a wide range of symptoms. According to the WHO, “Seizures can vary from the briefest lapses of attention or muscle jerks to severe and prolonged convulsions. Seizures can also vary in frequency, from less than 1 per year to several per day.
What is epilepsy?
People often use the words seizure and epilepsy interchangeably – but they are not the same thing. Epilepsy is a chronic noncommunicable disease, which is characterized by recurrent seizures. Epilepsy can start at any age, but generally starts in childhood or people aged over 60 years old. It affects over 50 million people worldwide, and is one of the world’s oldest recognized conditions, with records dating back as far as 4000 BC!
Causes of seizures
There are many causes of seizures, including:
- Lack of Oxygen
- Head Injury
- Infections (such as meningitis)
- Raised body temperature
In many cases the cause of the seizure may not be obvious, and in some cases, the cause is never known.
Recognising a Seizure
Seizures can affect people in different ways, depending on which part of the brain is involved.
Possible symptoms include:
- uncontrollable jerking and shaking, called a “fit”
- losing awareness and staring blankly into space
- becoming stiff
- strange sensations, such as a “rising” feeling in the tummy, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in your arms or legs
First Aid Treatment
If you witness someone having a seizure, you can:
- Remove them from danger (Focal or Absence seizure)
- Move any objects away from the casualty
- Cushion the casualty’s head
- Time the seizure
- Loosen any tight clothing around the neck
Call an ambulance (115) if:
- The seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
- The casualty has a second seizure
- They have injured themselves
- If it is the casualty’s first seizure
- The seizure lasts 2 minutes longer than what is ‘normal’ for the casualty
If a casualty is not responsive after having a seizure, it’s important to open their airway and ensure they are breathing.
It is important to make sure you:
- DO NOT put anything in the casualty’s mouth. This can cause significant damage to their teeth, impair their ability to breath and or cause vomiting. People often put something in a casualty’s mouth to try and protect the tongue, but the reality is you can make the situation much worse by doing this – don’t do it!
- DO NOT try to restrain someone having a seizure. It will not make it stop any faster, and you risk causing injury.
Want to learn more first aid skills?
American Epilepsy Society – https://www.aesnet.org/for_patients/facts_figures#Eight
National Health Service (NHS) UK – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epilepsy/
Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seizure/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20365730
World Health Organization (WHO) – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/epilepsy