Not all seizures are the same. Some seizures are more dangerous than others. The two main types are partial seizures and generalized seizures.
Partial seizures start in a single part of the brain. During simple partial seizures, a person with epilepsy is aware of what's happening. For example, a person's arm might start moving, or her face start twitching -- the person is awake and aware, but can't control it. This can be followed by decreased consciousness or staring as the seizure becomes complex. After the seizure the person has no recollection of the event.
Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain at once. People are rarely aware of what's happening during generalized seizures.
Convulsive seizures are known as generalized tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures). These are the most frightening seizures to watch, and can be an emergency. In a generalized tonic-clonic seizure:
- A person with epilepsy who is having a seizure often becomes unresponsive. Calling out to them brings no answer; waving your hand in their eyes or shaking them elicits no response. He may suddenly collapse.
- Seizures cause a person's muscles to clench, and he or she becomes rigid as a board (tonic phase). This lasts a few seconds.
- Next, a series of jerking movements convulse the person's body (clonic phase). The convulsions of a seizure can last for only seconds, or can go on for minutes.
- Eventually, the jerking stops and the person regains consciousness. Usually after a generalized seizure, a person is confused or disoriented for a short period of time.
Any generalized seizure can be dangerous, because the person becomes unaware of his surroundings and can't protect himself from harm, such as while driving. The uncontrollable thrashing movements during a generalized tonic-clonic seizure increase the risk of injury. Most seizures that result in trips to the emergency room are of this type.
If you witness someone with epilepsy having a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, remember that it's probably not an emergency, although it may look like one. Keep these first-aid tips in mind:
- Keep other people out of the way.
- Clear hard or sharp objects away from around the person.
- Don't try to hold the person down, or stop the movements.
- Place the person on his or her side, to help keep the airway clear.
- Look at your watch at the start of the seizure, to time its length.
- Don't put anything in the person's mouth. Contrary to a popular misconception, it is not possible for a person to swallow his tongue during a seizure. However, placing an object in the mouth of a person who is having a seizure may cause the patient harm or injury. The patient may experience a dental injury or you may harm yourself by having your finger bit.
Milder seizures -- like brief periods of staring or shaking of the arms or legs -- also are not an emergency. You should, however, gently guide a person with epilepsy who is having a seizure away from any surrounding danger. They may be in a state similar to sleepwalking, and need protection from threats around them, like traffic or stairs.
This answer should not be considered medical advice...This answer should not be considered medical advice and should not take the place of a doctor’s visit. Please see the bottom of the page for more information or visit our Terms and Conditions.
Archived: March 20, 2014
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