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What is epilepsy and how can I help someone who’s seizing?

PUBLISHED

Mar 23, 2022

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What is Epilepsy? 

Epilepsy is a general term used to categorize those who have a chronic brain disorder that causes reoccurring seizures. The United Brain Association explains that “a person is diagnosed with epilepsy if they have two unprovoked seizures that were not caused by some known and reversible medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar.” Some epileptic seizures are linked to genetic factors or caused by a traumatic injury to the brain, however much of the time the actual cause is unknown. 

Types of Seizures 

A seizure is like an electric strike to the brain causing all pathways to fire abnormally. This essentially overwhelms the brain and can have a wide range of odd and involuntary effects on the rest of the body. 

There are many different types of seizures which can last anywhere between a couple seconds to minutes. The two main types of seizures are focal seizures, which are caused by only one area of the brain, and generalized seizures which affect all areas of the brain. 

Focal Seizures 

Focal seizures can cause people’s senses to drastically change, emotions to shift, dizziness, tingling, or involuntary jerking of the body. Some also experience a loss of consciousness or become unaware of their current surroundings (I.e., look like they’re staring off into space) and stop responding normally.  

Generalized Seizures 

  • Absence seizures: most common in children and last up to 20 seconds. The child may simply seem like they are not paying attention or lost in a daydream. 
  • Tonic seizures: affects muscles by causing them to unwillingly stiffen. 
  • Atonic seizures: the opposite of tonic seizures, these cause the muscles to completely relax. The body almost becomes Jell-O like and might cause someone to fall abruptly. 
  • Clonic seizures: causes a repeated jerking movement in the upper body and arm muscles. 
  • Myoclonic seizures: like clonic seizures, this causes jerking or twitching in the muscles, but it is sporadic and not constant. This can also affect the legs as well. 
  • Tonic-clonic seizures: “These are the most dramatic type of epileptic seizure. Tonic-clonic seizures can cause loss of consciousness, body stiffening and shaking, loss of bladder control, or tongue-biting.” 

Seizure First Aid 

How do you help someone who is having a seizure? Since there are so many different types of seizures, some more visually prominent to a bystander than others, it can be hard to recognize when someone is even having a seizure. There are different ways you can help someone depending on the type of seizure they’re having. The most apparent seizure is a tonic-clonic seizure because a bystander can visually see the person jerking or shaking and they are usually on the ground. 

If you encounter someone experiencing this type of seizure the best thing you can do to help is stay calm! In addition, try to cushion their head, time how long the seizure lasts, DO NOT restrain them, DO NOT put anything in their mouth, keep others from crowding, and only move them if they are in a dangerous location.  

Once they stop convulsing, roll them onto their side so that they can take their time to recover. Any type of seizure can leave the affected in a confused and tired state afterwards, and some may not even remember what happened. 

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Epilepsy in Children  

How does epilepsy affect children versus adults?  

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains that “most of the adult-onset epilepsy is due to acquired pathologies such as mesial temporal sclerosis (MTS), brain tumor, stroke, central nervous system infection, and immune mediated pathologies. In children, genetic and metabolic disorders as well as developmental malformation are much more common.” 

Do children grow out of epilepsy? Is epilepsy in children curable? 

These are truly hard questions to answer but they are common questions that a parent or guardian might ask. Unfortunately, the answer to both depends on which childhood epilepsy syndrome a child is diagnosed with. To diagnosis a child with epilepsy syndrome, a healthcare professional will take multiple factors into consideration such as what age the seizures started, the type of seizures the child is having, the pattern on an electroencephalogram (EEG) or any unusual patterns on a brain scan. 

From here a child may be diagnosed with a ‘benign’ or ‘severe’ case of epilepsy syndrome. Most often a ‘benign’ diagnosis means that the child will most likely be seizure free once they reach a certain age. A ‘severe’ diagnosis unfortunately indicates that a child’s seizures are more uncontrollable and will typically last longer and may even continue into adulthood. Luckily, no matter the diagnosis the child’s doctor will be able to help navigate which treatment options, medications, or changes in environment will help most to support the child with epilepsy syndrome. 

Learn more about the different types of childhood epilepsy and possible treatment options. 

How to tell people how to help your child with epilepsy 

The older your child gets the more likely it is that they will not be under your watch and care 24/7. Whether your child is headed to school, a playdate, or extracurricular activity it’s important to prepare another adult for what to do if your child has a seizure while under their care. The type of epilepsy syndrome your child has been diagnosed with will influence how much you might need to tell other adults about your child’s condition. 

The best place to start is by explaining what your child’s seizures typically look like and any warning signs that may help indicate if a seizure is about to happen.  

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Print and fill out this informative card to give to others who might care for your child as a quick and easy way to provide them with necessary information regarding your child’s condition.  

If possible, try to keep a copy of this card with your child too! 

What to do if your child with epilepsy goes missing 

What happens if your child wanders off and has a seizure when they’re alone? Consider giving your child a medical ID bracelet to wear so that if someone finds them while seizing, they can understand what is going on.  

Also, as a Guardian+ subscriber, when you create your child’s profile, you can note that your child has epilepsy. That way, if they go missing the alert you issue will include that important note about their medical condition. In addition, when you issue an alert you may include additional details on the specifics to help your child if they are found seizing or unresponsive.  

Don’t forget that the Q5id Guardian app also offers direct contact to 911, so if your child wanders and is found seizing or incapacitated by a Guardian volunteer, they can contact 911 immediately to make sure your child receives the best possible care. 

Show your support for epilepsy awareness by participating in Purple Day annually on March 26!