A seizure is a medical condition that causes abnormal activity and/or body movements after a sudden and uncontrolled disturbance in your brain. Most people associate seizures with a condition called epilepsy, but you can experience a seizure even without having this condition. Seizures can occur after a head injury, stroke, or as a result of certain infections and illnesses, such as meningitis. It's important to recognize the signs of a seizure and understand what to do if you or someone around you is experiencing one.
Warning signs of a seizure
The exact signs and symptoms of a seizure can vary from one person to another. It's important to be aware of your body to spot the signs of a seizure as soon as possible.
The most common symptoms prior to seizure include:
- A sound or tone that is the same each time
- Changes in your hearing that might feel like you're under water
- Distortions in your surroundings, such as feeling very small or very large compared to the things and people around you
- Feeling of butterflies or other sensation in your stomach
- Déjà vu, where things seem very familiar like you've been there before
- Jamais vu (the opposite of déjà vu), where things seem foreign or unfamiliar, even if you know you have been there before
Young children and babies can also experience seizures, but they may not be able to tell you what is going on. Common signs for children and babies include:
- Frequent or sudden stomach pain
- Complaints that things taste, smell, feel, look, or sound weird
- Sleeping more than normal, or waking up confused and irritable
- Jacknife movements in babies (jerking and grabbing with both arms)
What to do if you notice these signs
If you notice these symptoms and believe you are about to experience a seizure, try to get someplace safe where you will not get injured if you lose consciousness. If you are around others, tell them you think you might be experiencing a seizure so they can look for warning signs and help you stay safe.
How to help someone who is experiencing a seizure
Most of the time, a seizure does not require urgent medical attention. The best thing you can do is make sure the person is safe, comfortable, and will not get injured during the seizure by:
- Helping them move into a safe position on the floor or a chair
- Rolling them onto their side
- Loosening any clothing that is tight around their neck or could restrict breathing (buttons, ties, etc.)
- Removing eyeglasses
- Moving them away from hard or sharp items that could cause injury, but only if you can do so safely
- Staying with them until the seizure is over
Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, there are also things you should never do when someone is having a seizure.
What to do after a seizure
Most seizures last between 30 seconds and two minutes and will not require any emergency medical attention. However, if someone is experiencing a seizure that lasts longer than two minutes, or they lose consciousness and it does not come back right after the seizure, you should call 911 right away. It's also good to know the warning signs of other serious issues that would require immediate medical attention.
Find out as much as you can about what happened during the seizure from someone who was there. Keep track of seizures and potential triggers by writing down:
- Foods you ate
- Activities you were engaged in
- Medications you are taking (prescription and over-the-counter)
- Herbal or other supplements you are taking
- How long the seizure lasts
- What happened during the seizure (jerking movements, loss of consciousness, etc.)
When to see a neurologist
If you experience a seizure, it's important to tell your primary care physician. They can help you determine if you need to see a neurologist and give you a referral if necessary. While it's possible to experience just one seizure the risk of having another seizure within two years of your first one is between 21% and 45%. Depending on the cause of the seizure, your risk could be even higher.
A neurology specialist will review your medical history, perform an exam, and use one or more diagnostic tools and tests to determine if you need ongoing treatment or are at higher risk for another seizure.
Medication and treatment options for seizures
There are several treatment options available to help control seizures. Medications successfully control symptoms in about two-thirds of people with seizures. For those who do not respond to medication, there are also surgical options available, including:
- Minimally invasive surgery
- Laser ablation surgery
- NeuroPace RNS
- Deep brain stimulation (DBS)
- Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)