What is epilepsy and what you can do if you see someone having a seizure
What is epilepsy?
Electrical activity is happening in our brain all the time. Epilepsy is a neurological condition and is the tendency to have recurrent seizures. There are around 40 different types of seizure and a person may have more than one type. Epilepsy can affect anyone, at any age and from any walk of life. In the UK, over 600,000 people have epilepsy; approximately one in every 103. Every day, 87 people are diagnosed with epilepsy. Only 52 per cent of people with epilepsy in the UK are seizure-free. It is estimated that 70 per cent could be seizure-free with the right treatment.
A seizure happens when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain. This is often referred to as epileptic activity. This intense electrical activity causes a temporary disruption to the way the brain normally works, meaning that the brain’s messages become mixed up. The result is an epileptic seizure.
What an individual experiences during a seizure will depend on where in the brain the epileptic activity begins and how widely and rapidly it spreads. For this reason, there are many types of seizure and each person will experience epilepsy in a way that is unique to them.
In focal or partial seizures, the epileptic activity starts in just a part of the brain. A person may remain alert during this type of seizure or they may not be aware of what is happening. A person may have movements that they cannot control, or unusual sensations or feelings. Sometimes, onlookers may be unaware that a person is having a seizure. Focal seizures can be very brief or last for minutes. Sometimes, epileptic activity starts as a focal seizure, spreads to the rest of the brain and then becomes a generalised seizure.
Generalised seizures involve epileptic activity in both hemispheres (halves) of the brain. A person will usually lose consciousness during this type of seizure, but sometimes it can be so brief that no-one notices. The muscles in the body may stiffen or jerk and the person may fall down.
One type of generalised seizure, tonic-clonic seizures, can follow this pattern. They may last a few minutes and the person may look a little blue around the mouth from irregular breathing.
First aid for tonic-clonic seizures
Remember ACTION for first aid for tonic-clonic seizures:
A – Assess
Assess the situation – are they in danger of injuring themselves? Remove any nearby objects that could cause injury
C – Cushion
Cushion their head (with a jumper, for example) to protect them from head injury
T – Time
Check the time – if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes you should call an ambulance
I – Identity
Look for a medical bracelet or ID card – it may give you information about the person’s seizures and what to do
O – Over
Once the seizure is over, put them on their side (in the recovery position). Stay with them and reassure them as they come round
N – Never
Never restrain the person, put something in their mouth or try to give them food or drink
Call for an ambulance if:
You know it is the person’s first seizure, or
The seizure continues for more than five minutes, or
One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures, or
The person is injured during the seizure, or
You believe the person needs urgent medical attention
Epilepsy Action provides free wallet-sized first aid cards through its shop at: www.epilepsy.org.uk/actioncard
For more information on epilepsy visit the Epilepsy Action website www.epilepsyaction.org.uk