20 June 2011

Seizing a seizure at work

One in a hundred people have epilepsy, but most are too ashamed or afraid to discuss it with friends or colleagues.


One in a hundred people have epilepsy¹, but most are too ashamed or afraid to discuss it with friends or colleagues. Epilepsy can be easily managed with the correct treatment regime, but in times of increased stress, seizures can still occur. Some people have a vague idea of what to do; others have no idea at all about how to seize an epileptic seizure.

June 21 signifies the start of National Epilepsy Week where those with epilepsy are encouraged to speak up about their condition and educate their colleagues and friends about epilepsy.

Being the most common neurological condition, according to Epilepsy South Africa, epilepsy can affect anyone of any age – though it is usually detected before age 20. Epilepsy also strikes regardless of intelligence, race, gender and social background.

“Different people experience epilepsy in different ways”, says Neurologist at Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre, Dr. Dave Anderson. “A seizure is usually caused by an electrical imbalance in the brain and can seize the body in different ways”.

From someone merely staring blankly, possibly with slight twitching to the more expected full body seizure, recognising and being able to manage a seizure, especially in the workplace, can help prevent an unnecessary scene and even protect the life of someone with epilepsy.

Video: How to recognise a seizure

There are several ways people can assist if they find themselves in a situation where someone is having what appears to be an epileptic seizure.

What to do in the event of a seizure

  • Remain calm and note the time and the characteristics of the seizure.
  • Clear a space around the person and prevent others from crowding around.
  • Loosen tight clothing / neckwear and remove spectacles.
  • Cushion the head to prevent injury.
  • Put the person onto their left side with their top leg bent and the bottom arm slightly extended (known as the shock recovery position).

    Shock recovery position
  • Reassure and assist the person until he/she has recovered or become re-orientated.
  • Allow the person to rest or sleep if necessary covering them with a blanket.
  • Note the time again – working out the duration of the seizure.
  • Provide information on the time and duration of the seizure to the person after he/she has recovered fully, as well as the characteristics of the seizure to the best of your ability.  It is important for them to keep a record of this type of information.

In the event of a seizure DO NOT

  1. Restrict or restrain the person’s movements.
  2. Move the person unless he/she might hurt him/herself or is in immediate danger (i.e. in a busy road).
  3. Put anything between the person’s teeth or in the person’s mouth.
  4. Give anything to eat or drink during the seizure.
  5. Give anti-convulsants, unless stipulated to do so by a neurologist.
  6. Call a doctor or an ambulance unless the person has injured him/herself badly, if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes or the person has repeated seizures without recovering between seizures.

According to Dr. Anderson, "With the correct treatment, most people are able to keep their epileptic seizures under control, which is why there is no reason for epilepsy to carry a stigma. It is only through talking about epilepsy that we are able to educate the general public about this condition and minimise their fears towards it."

Those with epilepsy are also encouraged to speak to their doctors about the details of their condition, ensuring that they have access to the best treatment for their type of epilepsy.

For more information on epilepsy contact Epilepsy South Africa at www.epilepsy.org.za or call them on 0860 374 537. Alternatively, contact Dr. Anderson via email on prneurology@mweb.co.za or call him on 011 726 8741.

Sources: 1. Epilepsy South Africa (http://www.epilepsy.org.za/facts/index.php)

(Information supplied by Epilepsy South Africa)

- (Health24, updated June 2011)

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