Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seizures – How to Help

In my last post, I gave a brief overview of epilepsy (what it is and isn’t, how people get epilepsy and the types of seizures a person may have).

Today is all about what you can do to help if you see someone having a seizure.

I forget that seizures can be scary (probably because I’ve witnessed more seizures than I can count and am so used to them) but do realize they can be frightening for someone who has never seen one. Seizures usually happen without warning although there are some people who experience an aura before a seizure which gives them a brief moment to react (for example, sit down if they are standing).

Robert has experienced the aura before but it doesn’t happen with every seizure. He says when he was little he would see things in the colors “red, green and blue.” He also used to tell us he was able to see cartoons in his head. I think these must be a little boy’s descriptions of the aura before a seizure. Robert also tells me he can sometimes fight off the seizures if he feels one coming on. I’ve always wondered if this is actually true but I don’t doubt the power of the mind so can believe it.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you see someone having a seizure. First, you don’t have to do anything if the person is having an Absence Seizure (also known as Petit Mal and looks like a brief period of staring). Robert sometimes has these when we are playing cards and I just wait until it passes (his usually last 10 – 20 seconds). It’s a good opportunity to peek at his cards but I refrain from taking advantage!

Robert will sometimes tug at his clothes or twitch his hand during a seizure but as long as he is sitting down and not holding anything, there is nothing to do. Of course, if he is holding a cup or his 7-Up bottle in his hand, I gently try to remove it since there might be a spill involved. Otherwise, the seizure passes quickly and he is able to resume whatever activity he’s doing (usually, beating me at cards).

For Generalized Tonic-Clonic (or Grand Mal) seizures, there are a few more steps a person can take to ensure the safety of the person having a seizure. These tips are from the Epilepsy Foundation website (my commentary is in parentheses):

1. Keep calm and try to reassure others in the area (remember my rule: only one person can panic at a time in any given situation!);

2. Do not hold the person down or try to stop the person from moving;

3. Time the seizure (this is important);

4. Clear the area of hard or sharp objects;

5. Loosen anything around the neck that may be constricting breathing;

6. Put something soft and flat under the person’s head using something like a folded up jacket;

7. If possible, turn the person over on their side to help keep the airway clear;

8. Do not put anything into the person’s mouth (least of all your fingers; see below for my "myth buster");

9. Do not attempt artificial respiration unless, in the unlikely event, the person isn’t able to breathe after a seizure (this is rare);

10. Stay with the person until the seizure ends and be reassuring while the person gets their bearings again;

11. Offer to call a friend or family member if the person is confused when the seizure ends;

It isn't necessary to call 911 every time someone has a seizure but it’s a good idea to call if the seizure lasts more than five minutes or if the person has fallen and hurt themselves.

Myth Buster: A person cannot swallow their tongue during a seizure so there is no reason to be concerned about that.

There are a lot of reasons other than epilepsy that may cause a person to have a seizure (such as a brain tumor, head injury or high fever to name just a few). As a sister of someone with epilepsy, I would appreciate it if people didn’t assume the person having a seizure was overdosing on drugs. Robert had a seizure in a restaurant many years ago and I overheard someone make a comment based on this assumption. It was very hurtful and completely unnecessary. People with epilepsy already have to deal with being looked at negatively because they are different, they certainly don’t need to be accused of causing their own seizure problem too. Heck, even if the person is overdosing, couldn’t they use some compassion as well?

The main thing to remember is to protect the person from harm when they are having a seizure and to treat them with kindness and compassion afterwards. Hopefully this information makes you a little less fearful in the event you encounter Robert or someone like him having a seizure.

In future posts, I will discuss treatment, living with epilepsy and also the social and economic aspect of epilepsy.

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