Epilepsy Action carried out a survey where they asked 2000 people in the UK “if you saw somebody was having an epileptic seizure, would you know what to do?” And over 40% of people responded they would not know how to respond. What was even more alarming, was many people thought you should restrain someone having a seizure, or put some-thing in their mouth, both of which are very dangerous.
Unfortunately, there are many different types of epileptic seizures which makes the management of seizures a little more complicated. These can range from the common tonic clonic seizures where people fall to the floor, but you can also have absence seizures where people look like they are zoning out making what you need to do a little more difficult. However, the more you know the more prepared you will be to help.
What exactly is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a common neurological condition that is estimated to affect 600,000 people in the U.K. It can develop at any point in your life and not just from birth. There are varying causes including genetic, or sometimes it can develop after a head trauma or after meningitis, a brain tumour or post stroke. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 6 out of 10 people have no clear defined cause of epilepsy.
We use anti-epileptic medication for patients with epilepsy and they will be successful for some patients meaning they will not experience any seizures at all. However, only half of patients in the U.K. are completely seizure free.
Many patients with epilepsy recognise their individual triggers and learn their warning signs that a seizure if coming on. However, there is always the risk of being caught short.
What is a seizure and what types of seizures exist?
An epileptic seizure is caused by a disturbance of electrical activity in the brain.
Tonic clonic seizures are one of the most com-mon. The person will fall unconscious and will fall to the floor as their body will go stiff and they will shake for several minutes. They may shout, have abnormal breathing and may lose control of their bladder.
Absence seizures are often more subtle and can even be mistaken for daydreaming where the person will look like they are zoning out.
Atonic seizures is where a person will lose muscle tone and their head and body may go limp.
What can you do if you are a bystander to a person having an epileptic seizure?
The most important task is to make sure the person is safe. Assess the situation around the person and check that they are not in danger. If they are on the floor, gently cushion their head and just remain with them until the seizure if over. If it is a tonic clonic seizure, once the seizure is over put them in the recovery position but it is vital not to restrain them. It can be quite scary to see a tonic clonic seizure for the first time however if they are a known epileptic and the seizure lasts less than 5 minutes there is no need to call an ambulance.
However, if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, if it’s the persons first seizure, they are injured, they are having multiple seizures without the person regaining consciousness or they are having trouble breathing after the seizure then calling an ambulance is essential. It is often more difficult to assess if you don’t know the person having the seizure. If you are ever concerned, you should call 999 immediately for help.
In conclusion, it is important to stay calm and offer the person reassurance once the seizure is over. Remember, check the patient is safe, do not restrain the patient during the seizure, and always seek emergency medical advice if you are concerned.