Medically Reviewed by Olinda Spencer, MD
Many people hear the word epilepsy and envision and person on the ground in convulsions. But McLeod Neurologist Olinda Spencer, MD, says it’s more than that and there are numerous misconceptions.
Here are highlights of Dr. Spencer’s comments on Epilepsy:
Epilepsy refers to a medical condition where someone has multiple seizures or is at risk for multiple seizures. A seizure is abnormal brain activity and it can cause various symptoms. If you have two or more seizures that’s considered epilepsy. There’s also a new definition that says, if you’ve had 1oneseizure but also have certain risk factors, it’s considered epilepsy.
During a seizure, a lot of different things can happen. It depends on where the seizure is starting. In some people, their whole brain will seize at once. If that happens, they will have loss of consciousness, pass out and often can have jerking or convulsions of their whole body. However, sometimes a person will have focal seizures, which means not the whole brain is seizing but only one part of the brain. When that happens, depending on what part of the brain is involved, you’ll have various symptoms. For example, if it’s on the right part of the brain — what we call the motor area — you might just see jerking of the left side of their body . Other times, it can be in the left or visual area of the brain, triggering abnormal visual hallucinations or perceptions.
I think people should know something about epilepsy or about seizures, including seizure First Aid, because it’s such a common condition. If you ever see someone having a seizure, one of the first things I want you to do is look at the time and try to time it. When someone’s seizing and it gets close to five minutes or beyond, that’s when seizures can be really dangerous. They can deprive the brain of oxygen. So, it’s really important to time it — even if it’s someone you love, because then a few seconds might seem like several minutes. Look at a clock and, if it gets close to that five-minute mark, you should call 911.
There are several misconceptions when someone is having a seizure. You should never put something in a person’s mouth, because they can swallow it and choke. You should make sure the person is in a safe place, not near anything where they might hurt themselves. If possible, try to turn them on their side, and put something soft under their head. Again, don’t try to put anything in their mouth and you should time it. Try not to leave someone alone during a seizure. Once it’s over, you should very calmly try to reassure them and just tell them, “ Hey, you had seizure. It’s OK. You’re safe.”
Sometimes people will try to hold the seizure victim down who is having a seizure. But after a seizure, a person will be very confused. They’ll wake up and feel like you’re holding them down. That can be very scary. So, just give them some space and try to reassure them.