Understanding Epilepsy

May 10, 2016

If you were witnessing someone in the middle of an epileptic seizure, would you know what to do? Understanding epilepsy, its dangers, symptoms, and how to offer first aid is the first step in being able to assist a person in need if the situation ever arises.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder associated with abnormal electrical brain activity. It results in the loss of consciousness, unusual sensations, and muscle spasms due to a sensory interruption within the nerve cells of the brain.

Seizures and epilepsy are not the same thing, although the terms are commonly interchanged. A person may be diagnosed with epilepsy if they have experienced two or more seizures that are not linked to a treatable cause such as an infection or fever. Seizures themselves are not necessarily a sign of epilepsy.

Why is epilepsy dangerous?


Epilepsy can be dangerous because severe attacks may cause brain damage – and repeated attacks in children can cause developmental delays. A person suffering from a seizure can stop breathing.

Generally, it is a person’s lack of awareness or consciousness during an epileptic seizure that makes doctors concerned.

During an epileptic seizure, a person is unable to make the necessary conscious decisions and actions that will ultimately keep them out of danger. Normal situations such as driving, eating, preparing food, or being in or around water can turn hazardous if a person loses awareness and muscle control. A seizure during these situations can lead to an accident, choking, cutting oneself, or drowning.

And while not immediately life-threatening, epilepsy can also have a psychological impact on the person who suffers from it. A sufferer may feel self-conscious and therefore isolate themselves because of fear or embarrassment. This in turn affects their social relationships. If the sufferer is a child, he or she may be more likely to develop behavior issues or do poorly in school.

How to help someone experiencing an epileptic seizure


Epileptic seizures can result in sudden full body stiffness, muscle spasms, and head turning. During an attack, administer the following first aid:

  • Stay calm; do not try to restrain or hold the person down
  • Clear the surrounding area and loosen any tight clothing
  • Remove any sharp or heavy objects from within the person’s reach
  • Have the person lay down flat and turn their head to the side; remove any objects near or inside the person’s mouth to prevent choking
  • Observe how long the seizure lasts, and if possible, take note of any symptoms that occurred immediately prior to and during the seizure
  • Have the person see the doctor immediately after a seizure; get medical help if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if the person does not regain consciousness

Not all seizures present with dramatic symptoms. Some sufferers experience absence seizures, which are much more subtle and can be noted by a temporary unfocused look. In fact, absence seizures can easily go unnoticed for long periods of time, before being properly identified.

Seeking medical treatment for epilepsy, even for mild seizures, will not only reduce the dangers of this disorder, it will also instill confidence in the person who suffers from it.

After an evaluation and diagnosis, medical treatment can significantly reduce, if not eliminate, epileptic seizures.

By Dr . Paisan Vachatimanont , Neurologist, Neuroscience Center, Bumrungrad Hospital

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