Mighty Blog

National Epilepsy Awareness Month: What you should know about seizures

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 1 in 10 people will experience a seizure throughout their life, and 1 in 26 will develop epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a condition that affects the central nervous system. A person with epilepsy will experience a seizure when the brain’s overactive electrical signals misfire. This causes disruption to the brain’s normal activity resulting in a temporary communication problem among nerve cells.

Most seizures last a few seconds or a few minutes, and can make a person feel sleepy or confused for a period of time afterward. Some people may also not remember the seizure or what happened immediately before, while others may be very alert following a seizure. This varies from person to person.

happy family in living room

Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. But, if a person experiences one or many seizures for unclear reasons and is at risk for having additional seizures, they may be diagnosed with epilepsy. Epilepsy can be developed during childhood or later in life, and for some people with epilepsy, especially those who developed it at a young age, the seizures may become less frequent or eventually go away, depending on the cause or type of epilepsy.

Types of seizures?

Seizures may look scary to onlookers, but a person does not feel pain while having a seizure. Epileptic seizures usually fall into one of two categories: partial or generalized.

Partial or focal seizures

Partial seizures start in one part of the brain, but the abnormal activity may move to other parts of the brain. A person having a partial seizure may experience twitching throughout the body; have slurred, abnormal or unusual speech; or feel tingling throughout one side of the body. How a person experiences this all depends on what part of the brain is experiencing abnormal electrical activity.

During a partial seizure, a person may or may not be aware of his surroundings or actions. If the person does not lose awareness, it is called a simple seizure, and it is called a complex seizure if the person does lose awareness and the ability to interact with their surroundings.

Generalized seizures

Generalized seizures involve simultaneous abnormal electrical activities all over the brain. There are different types of generalized seizures.

Absence seizures

During an absence seizure, a person will look like they are staring off into space or day dreaming for about 15 seconds After this type of seizure, the person usually quickly returns to their normal level of activity.

Tonic-clonic seizures

In a tonic-clonic seizure, a person’s eyes may roll back, their muscles may stiffen and the person may make sudden jerking motions such as flinging their arms. Their body may also go limp, causing them to slump down or fall over. They may lose control of their bladder or bowel.

Myoclonic seizures

Myoclonic seizures are brief, shock-like jerks of the muscles. These seizures generally do not last more than a few seconds. Sometimes a person will only experience one myoclonic seizure, but it’s possible that they may experience many in a short period of time (clusters).

How can I tell if someone is having a seizure?

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone is having an epileptic seizure because everyone experiences seizures differently. Some people may experience convulsions throughout their entire body, while others may blankly stare for a few seconds.

There are certain stimuli that may trigger a seizure in someone with epilepsy:

  • Lack of sleep.
  • Stress.
  • Overstimulation, like staring at a screen or playing video games for too long.
  • Fever or illness.
  • Certain medications – check with your pharmacist about which medications can trigger a seizure.
  • Alcohol and some illegal drugs.

What should you do if someone has a seizure?

It can be scary to see someone have a seizure, but there are a few things you can do to keep that person safe.

  • Stay calm.
  • Do not hold or restrain the person.
  • Help the person lie down on their side on a flat, comfortable surface.
  • Do not put anything in the person’s mouth during the seizure, as forcing the mouth open may cause an injury.
  • If the person is wearing glasses or a backpack, remove them. You should also loosen any tight clothing near the neck.
  • Move sharp or hard objects away from the person.
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Make sure they are breathing without difficulty.
  • Talk to them with a calm, reassuring voice after the seizure is over.
  • Pay attention during the seizure so that you will be able to describe what happened before, during and after.

The person may need medical attention if they have trouble breathing or appear bluish around the mouth after the seizure, have a medical condition like diabetes, had a long seizure, or had multiple seizures. In cases of emergency, always call 9-1-1.

Children’s level 4 epilepsy center

Children’s Minnesota is home to a level 4 epilepsy center, which means we offer the highest level of care for children with epilepsy, including the newest medications and surgical techniques. Our experts provide diagnosis; medical and surgical treatment; and educational, psychological and neuropsychological services for patients from birth through age 21.

As one of the largest pediatric-focused epilepsy centers in the United States, we treat more than 700 patients annually, more than any other hospital in the Upper Midwest.

Kaitlyn Kamleiter