Epilepsy 101: Seizure symptoms and how to help someone having a seizure

Brain Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Oct 30, 2020

Despite being a very common condition, epilepsy is often stigmatized and misunderstood. Epilepsy is the generic term for a medical condition that affects approximately 3.4 million people in the US—that’s more than 1 percent of the population—and 50 million people worldwide.

Epilepsy encompasses more than 40 different syndromes. It’s the one of the most common neurological disorders, a category which includes Alzheimer’s and strokes.

Epilepsy is a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures. It can affect people of all ages, nationalities and races. It can even occur in animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits and mice.

The biggest danger of epilepsy is that it can cause death. The mortality rate among people with epilepsy is two to three times greater than the general population, and the risk of sudden death is 24 times greater.

With that in mind, let’s walk through some of the most common epileptic seizure symptoms and what to do if someone around you starts having a seizure.

Most common epileptic seizure symptoms

Epileptic seizures are caused by unusual bursts of energy that may occur in just one area of the brain (partial seizures) or throughout the brain (generalized seizures). The symptoms can include:

  • Blank staring
  • Rapid blinking
  • Chewing
  • Fumbling
  • Wandering
  • Shaking
  • Confused speech
  • And more

Television and movies sometimes present epileptic seizures as people falling on the floor and jerking all over. In reality, a seizure can present in a lot of different ways.

What to do if someone is having a seizure

Remembering some first aid tips can be critical if you encounter someone having a seizure.

  • Ask if the person is OK using a calm voice and make sure they are in a safe position.
  • Cushion the person’s head, remove eyeglasses and loosen any tight clothing.
  • Do not hold the person down or place anything in or near the person’s mouth.
  • Time the seizure with your watch or smartphone.
  • Call 911 if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if there are any signs of other illness, pregnancy or slow recovery.
  • Do not leave the person until help arrives and/or the person is fully recovered.

For more information about epilepsy and ways you can increase awareness about this often-misunderstood medical condition, visit The Epilepsy Foundation or the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas.

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