Epilepsy & Seizures
- Epilepsy is the tendency to have recurrent seizures. A seizure is a sudden disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain that results in a change of movement, consciousness, behavior, speech, or thinking.
- People with developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and autism are at a significantly higher risk for seizures – the likelihood of seizures increases with the severity of the disability.
Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. One out 10 people have just one seizure in their lifetime. At least two unprovoked seizures are generally required for an epilepsy diagnosis.
Signs & Symptoms:
- Tonic-Clonic (grand mal) – Stiffening and jerking, loss of consciousness; body becomes stiff and rigid then jerks and convulsions start. Temporarily suspended or altered breathing is common. Only lasts a few minutes followed by confusion or sleepiness.
- Absence (petit mal) – characterized by a blank stare/look of daydreaming, lasts only a few seconds. May include chewing or blinking. Awareness is lost but returns quickly.
- Complex partial – may begin with a trance-like stare and random activities are common such as picking at clothing or lip-smacking as well as twitching in a certain area of the body (usually the same set of actions occur with each seizure). The person is generally unresponsive. Only lasts a few minutes.
- Flashing lights, being startled
- Stress, anxiety, fear
- Caffeine, sugar
- Fever, illness, poor nutrition
- Lack of sleep
- Low blood sugar
Seizure First Aid:
- Stay calm
- Protect the person from injury – remove nearby objects and put something soft under person's head
- Roll the person onto his or her side
- DO NOT put anything into the mouth of a person having a seizure OR try to stop the seizure
- Time the seizure – if it lasts longer than 5 minutes or if the person is injured, call 911
- Stay with the person until the seizure is over
Seek further medical assistance if:
- The seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
- It is a first-time seizure
- Another seizure starts shortly after one ends
- The person is pregnant, injured, or has diabetes
- The seizure happens in water
No need to seek further medical assistance if:
- You know the person has epilepsy and
- There are no signs of physical distress and
- The seizure ends under 5 minutes and
- Consciousness returns without further incident
Source: Epilepsy Association of Western New York (2011)