Seizures and Epilepsy

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Epilepsy is currently defined as a tendency to have recurrent seizures. A seizure is caused by a sudden burst of excessive electrical activity in the brain, causing a temporary disruption in the normal message passing between brain cells. This disruption results in the brain’s messages becoming halted or mixed up.

The brain is responsible for all the functions of your body, so what you experience during a seizure will depend on where in your brain the epileptic activity begins and how widely and rapidly it spreads. For this reason, there are many different types of seizure, and each person will experience epilepsy in a way that is unique to them.  You may find it is frightening helping someone who is having a seizure, but it is not difficult and there is nothing to worry about.  Get help as fast as you can, but if you are alone, help them through the seizure first. Make sure you tell a parent or teacher if someone has had a seizure.

Some facts about epilepsy

  • Epilepsy is the tendency to have recurrent seizures.
  • There are around 40 different types of seizure and a person may have more than one type.
  • Epilepsy can affect anyone, at any age and from any walk of life.
  • 456,000 or one in every 131 people in the UK has epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy is a neurological condition.
  • Only 52 percent of people with epilepsy in the UK are seizure-free.
  • It is estimated that 70 percent could be seizure free with the right treatment.
  • One in 20 people will have a single seizure at some time in their life.
  • Many people who develop epilepsy below the age of 20 will ‘grow out of it' in adult life.
  • Many people with epilepsy are still discriminated against due to ignorance about the condition.  In the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act covers people with epilepsy.The vast majority of people with epilepsy can take part in the same activities as everyone else, with the help of simple safety measures where appropriate.
  • In the UK, people who have been seizure free for a year can re-apply for their driving license.
  • Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) is the explanation for 500 deaths per year in the UK.
  • Each year 2,500 women with epilepsy in the UK have a baby.

Basic first aid for seizures

  • Protect the person from injury - (remove harmful objects from nearby).
  • Cushion their head.
  • Look for an epilepsy identity card or identity jewellery.
  • Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the seizure has finished.
  • Be calmly reassuring.
  • Stay with the person until recovery is complete.
  • Don’t restrain the person.
  • Do not put anything in the person’s mouth.
  • Try not to move the person unless they are in danger.
  • Do not give the person anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered.
  • Do not attempt to bring them around.

Call an ambulance if…

  • You know it is the person’s first seizure.
  • The seizure continues for more than five minutes.
  • One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without the person regaining consciousness between seizure.
  • The person is injured during the seizure.
  • You believe the person needs urgent medical attention.

A tonic-clonic seizure is the most common type of generalised seizure. The following gives a typical description:

Your body becomes rigid due to strong muscular contractions (the tonic part). You lose consciousness and fall. Your chest muscles contract and force air out of your mouth, often with a grunt. Your jaw muscles contract and you may bite your tongue. Saliva may escape from your mouth. Your bladder may contract and you may pass urine. This stiff or tonic phase soon passes into the clonic (shaking or convulsive) phase. This is when the muscles repeatedly contract and relax. Your whole body appears to shake. This may last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

When the seizure has stopped, you gradually regain consciousness, but you may be confused and dazed for a while. The time taken to recover varies. You may have some soreness due to the muscular contractions. You may have a headache and want to sleep after a seizure.

You may have some warning symptoms for a short while before a seizure. This is called an aura. The aura can take various forms. Some of these forms are odd movements, odd sensations, or intense emotions. However, many people do not have auras, and a seizure commonly occurs without any warning.