Safety and Epileptic Seizures: Create an Emergency Response Plan

Epileptic seizures can be scary for both epilepsy patients and family members or others who are on hand during a seizure. Symptoms of a seizure can vary depending on the type of seizure and the patient. While most epileptic seizures are not emergencies, having an emergency response plan can help a person with epilepsy to stay safe and help others know when to call 911.

Understanding Types of Seizures

There are three types of epileptic seizures:

  • Partial seizures start in a single part of the brain, and a person with epilepsy may or may not be aware of what’s happening. After the seizure, the person has no recollection of the event.  
  • Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain at one time. People are rarely aware of what’s happening during generalized seizures.  
  • The seizures that can be an emergency are tonic-clonic convulsive seizures. These are also known as grand mal seizures and are frightening to watch.  In general, this type of seizure follows this sequence of events:
    • The person may become unresponsive. Calling out to them brings no answer; waving your hand in their eyes or shaking them elicits no response. He or she may suddenly collapse.
    • The person’s muscles clench and he or she becomes rigid as a board (the ”tonic” phase). This lasts a few seconds.
    • A series of jerking movements convulse the person’s body (the ”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. Often, after a generalized seizure, a person is confused or drowsy.

Safety During A Seizure

Any type of epileptic seizure can be dangerous because the person becomes unaware of his surroundings and can’t protect himself from harm. The uncontrollable thrashing movements during a generalized tonic-clonic seizure can increase the risk of injury. Most seizures that result in trips to the emergency room are of this type.

For all types of epileptic seizures, keep these safety 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 may bite your finger.

Milder seizures with brief periods of staring or shaking of the arms or legs are not an emergency. You should, however, gently guide a person away from any surrounding danger. They may need protection from threats around them, like traffic or stairs.

Emergency Response: When to Call 911

If you have epilepsy, it’s important to make an emergency response plan with your doctor and share the plan with family, friends, co-workers and teachers. The Epilepsy Foundation offers an infographic guide to managing epilepsy and seizures, including information about safety and emergency response.

Your family, friends, or others with you during a seizure should call 911 if:

  • You have diabetes
  • You are pregnant
  • You have other medical conditions, such as a high fever, heat exhaustion, or low blood sugar.
  • You have a seizure of any kind that last longer than five minutes
  • Multiple seizures occur in a short period of time
  • You stop breathing
  • A seizure occurred in water
  • You hit your head during a seizure and you are difficult to arouse, are vomiting, or complain of blurry vision
  • It is the first time a seizure occurred

Many people who live with epilepsy and their loved ones are experienced at handling uncomplicated seizures with first-aid at home. If something seems wrong or unsafe, you should seek emergency care. And always remember to record your seizures — the date, time, and any circumstances that seem important — and bring the record to your next doctor’s visit.

Specialized Epilepsy Care

LeBauer’s neurology team offers the latest treatment options and medications for epilepsy patients. Our neurologists would be happy to work with you, your family, and primary care physician to develop the best treatment plan for your epilepsy and an emergency response plan.

To schedule a consultation or receive more information about services offered at our Greensboro Neurology location, please call 336.832.3070.

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