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First aid

03 September 2010

Seizure and epilepsy

Most seizures last no longer than a few minutes and end spontaneously, but in some cases emergency help is essential.

Summary

  • A seizure is an uncontrolled burst of activity in the brain.
  • Different kinds of seizure have different effects, from fleeting loss of consciouness to convulsions.
  • First aid centres on removing dangerous objects from around the person, and providing reassurance.
  • A convulsive seizure that continues longer than five minutes, or when consciousness is not regained between seizures, is a medical emergency.

Epilepsy is a condition in which seizures recur over an extended period. Most seizures last no longer than a few minutes and end spontaneously, but in some cases emergency help is essential.

  • Generalised tonic-clonic seizure : Sudden collapse, unconsciousness, muscle spasm, violent limb jerking. Tongue biting, temporary pauses in breathing, incontinence, vomiting.
  • Absence seizure : Loss of consciousness for a few seconds. Person looks blank, stares. Blinks, fidgets, picks at clothing.
  • Complex partial seizure : Person appears unresponsive, distracted, "spaced out". Wanders about. Repetitive behaviours, e.g. lip smacking, picking at clothing.
  • Simple partial seizure : Jerking of a limb, or an abnormal sensation.

  • Protect the person from injury. Clear the area of harmful objects. Cradle the head with a pillow. Don't restrain the person's movements.
  • Don't put anything into the person's mouth.
  • Turn the person onto one side with the head down to allow saliva drainage and prevent vomit inhalation.
  • Stay with the person until they are fully recovered. He or she will probably feel very tired for several hours. Muscle aches and headache are common.

  • A person has recovered from a seizure but he is not a diagnosed epileptic.
  • Physical injury occurred during a seizure.
  • The seizure occurred in water.
  • A person on anti-epileptic medication feels unwell or has new side-effects.
 

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