What you should know if you have an epileptic seizure

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What you should know if you have an epileptic seizure

Epileptic seizures occur when uncontrolled electrical impulses are produced in the brain (although there are cases where seizures have nothing to do with abnormal brain activity or epilepsy).

However, epileptic seizures can be different for everyone and only those who experience them know exactly how it feels when they occur.

In terms of the symptoms of an epileptic seizure, they have three main characteristics. They are:

  • Stereotypical: each time a person has an epileptic seizure they can experience similar symptoms
  • Episodic: they are not permanent, nor are they regular
  • Unpredictable: they cannot be prevented

What happens during an epileptic seizure?

actividad de las neuronas

Once an epileptic seizure starts, there is not much you can do to stop it, but there are certain things that you should do as an onlooker, to make the seizure as harmless as possible.

So that you understand exactly what to do, we are first going to explain what actually happens during an epileptic seizure.

Although there are many types of epileptic seizures, when talking about epileptic seizures, most people think of the generalized tonic-clonic seizure (the person becomes rigid and then their body starts to make rhythmic movements). These seizures happen in three stages, which can be combined and may vary depending on the individual.

Taking into account that each person is different, we will show you some of the symptoms that may be experienced by someone having an epileptic seizure.

Initial stage of an epileptic seizure

Some people experience certain symptoms, hours or even days before a seizure starts, such as changes in mood, feelings, thoughts or behaviors, which they should share with you so that together you can be alert and take preventative measures.

Symptoms during the initial phase of an epileptic seizure

Sensory, emotional, or cognitivePhysical
Déjà vu (a feeling that a person,
place or thing is very familiar,
when it’s not)
Jamais vu (a feeling that a person, place or thing is unfamiliar, when it’s not)
Aromas and smells
Loss of vision or blurry vision
Strange feeling
Fear of anxiety
Pleasant feeling
Racing thoughts
Dizzy or lightheaded
Strange feeling in the stomach
(which usually rises to the throat)
Numbness or tingling in a certain
part of the body

Middle stage of an epileptic seizure

Also known as the ictal phase, it is the period in which the seizure actually takes place. This is the stage where the abnormalities in the brain that cause the seizure occur. Occasionally, visible symptoms last longer than the electrical seizure activity in the brain.

Symptoms during an epileptic seizure

Sensory, emotional or cognitivePhysical
Feeling spacey
Periods of forgetfulness or memory loss
Loss of hearing
Feeling distracted or daydreaming
Loss of consciousness (fainting)
Hearing strange or different
Strange smells (usually bad smells
like burning rubber)
Strange tastes
Loss of vision or blurry vision
Flashing lights
Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not really there)
Numbness, tingling or electric
shock type feeling in the arm or leg
Out of body experience
Déjà vu or jamais vu
Parts of the body feeling or look
Feeling of fear, panic, impending
doom (that something bad is going to happen)
Pleasant feelings
Difficulty speaking (may stop speaking, keep speaking, not make any sense or make strange or confused sounds)
Inability to swallow or drooling
Blinking repeatedly, eyes may
move from one side to the other,
look upward or stare blankly
Lack of movement of muscle tone
(unable to move, loss of tone in the neck and head, loss of tone in the
body and head and body may
slump forward)
Shaking, twitching or jerking movements (that may occur on one or
both sides of the face, arms, legs, or the whole body; may start in one
area and spread to other areas or
stay in one place)
Stiff or tense muscles (part or all of the body may feel very tense, and
if standing they may fall “like a tree trunk”)
Repeated and
non-purposeful movements such
as: lips macking or chewing movementsrepeated and non-purposeful movements (like fiddling or playing with buttons or objects)
Dressing or undressingWalking or
runningRepeated purposeful
movement (the person may
continue activity that was
happening before the seizure)
Convulsion (person loses
consciousness, their body goes
stiff or tense, followed by fast
jerking movements)
Sudden loss of control of urine and stool SweatingChange in skin color (may go pale or red)
Pupils may dilate or appear larger
than normalBiting their tongue
(from teeth clenching when
muscles tighten)
Difficulty breathingHeart racing

Final stage of an epileptic seizure

Immediately after a seizure, the person enters what is known as a postictal period. For some people, recovery is very fast, while others may take longer. In this phase, the person recovers and returns to normal.

Symptoms of the initial stages of an epileptic seizure

Sensory, emotional or cognitivePhysical
Memory loss
Difficulty speaking or writing
Feeling faint or nauseous
Sadness, depression or bad mood
Frustration, shame,
May have injuries, like bruises,
cuts, broken bones or head traumaMay feel exhausted or sleep for
several hours
Headache or pain in other parts of
the body
Feeling thirsty
Nausea or stomach pain
General weakness or in a certain
part of the body
Urgent need to go to the bathroom

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How to help someone who is having a seizure? [H2]

If you see someone having a seizure, there are certain things you can do to help and some things you should avoid:

What should I do?What should I NOT do?

While the
person is having the

Look after the person
so that they don’t fall
or hit themselves on
the ground
Protect or cushion
their head
Put the person on their side
Take off any
accessories that are
pulled tight around
the neck, such as ties
Keep calmRemove any objects that could
harm the person
Time the length of the
Look for any medical
ID bracelets or
Stay with the person
until the seizure

Restrict the person’s
Put anything in the
person’s mouth
Give the person
Give them medication, liquids, food, etc.

After the seizure

Give them space; keep crowds awayLet the
person rest
Check that they are
gradually returning to normal
Check if the person
has injuries
Clean their mouth if they are having difficulty breathing
Calm the person downDecide whether or notto call emergency

Give the person food
or drink before they
have completely
Try to move
them before they have recovered completely
Leave the person

So now you know exactly what happens during an epileptic seizure, hopefully you understand what you can do to help if you see someone suffering from a seizure.

If someone is suffering from an epileptic seizure, should I call emergency services?

Although it can be alarming to see someone suffering from an epileptic seizure, it is rarely necessary to call the emergency services.

  • If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
  • If they have another seizure before the person has time to recover
  • If the person injured him/herself during the seizure
  • If the seizure happened following a blow to the head
  • If the seizure happened after inhaling gas or poison
  • If the person who had the seizure is pregnant
  • If after the seizure the person has problems speaking or understanding, cannot see or is unable to move a part of their body

If you found important this information about what happens and what you can do when you see someone having an epileptic seizure, why not share it with your loved ones.

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