Epilepsy: Symptoms, Types, Causes and First Aid

By Dr. Mohit Goel in Neurosciences

Apr 21 , 2022 | 3 min read


Epilepsy refers to brain disorders that can cause frequent seizures. It can affect people of any group, but it usually begins in children or people above 60 years of age. If you have two or more seizures, you may be diagnosed with epilepsy. Keep reading to find out more about epilepsy.

Symptoms of epilepsy

Seizures are the main symptoms of epilepsy characterized by-

  1. Uncontrolled jerking and shaking of arms and legs which are also called fits.

  2. The patient stops doing what he might be doing and stares ahead. It is also known as a staring spell.

  3. Body becomes stiff

  4. Loss of consciousness

  5. Temporary confusion

Types of seizures

Seizures are of two types-

  1. Generalized seizures

    These affect both sides of your brain and are further classified into two major types

    1. Absence seizures

      It lasts fewer than 20 seconds and occurs more commonly in children than adults. During the seizure, the patient will stare blankly into space and lose awareness temporarily.

    2. Tonic-clonic seizures

      Occurs in two phases-

      1. Tonic stage

        In this stage, the patient's body gets stiff, and he/she loses consciousness. Strong muscle spasms can result in forcing air out of their lungs that can cause a cry or moan. The stiffness of the chest can cause breathing problems. Apart from this, saliva or foam may come out of their mouth.
      2. Clonic stage

        In this stage, the patient's face, arm, and legs show rapid jerking movements, which slow down after one to three minutes, after which his/her body relaxes.

  1. Focal seizures

    Affects a particular area of your brain. It is classified into three categories-

  1. Simple focal seizures

    It is also called auras and affects a particular area of one side of your brain but can spread to other parts of the brain. In this type of seizure, the patient doesn't lose consciousness, but they will have hearing problems and hallucinations, changes in heart rhythm or blood pressure, and bowel or bladder movement.

  2. Complex focal seizures

    In this type of seizure, the patient is confused and finds it difficult to respond to questions, make random noises, move his/her arms around, fiddle with objects or smack his/her lips.

Causes of Seizures

In epilepsy, there are sudden spikes of electrical activity, which causes seizures. The exact cause of epilepsy is unknown. However, it possibly occurs due to genetic factors. In some cases, it can occur due to brain damage caused due to stroke, drug abuse, brain tumor severe head injury, lack of oxygen during birth or brain infections.

First aid for epilepsy

Generalized seizures are more dangerous than focal seizures as the patient remains unaware of the surroundings and can get harmed due to uncontrolled movements. If you find someone having this type of seizure, you can help them by-

  1. Making the patient comfortable on the floor

  2. Loosen up ties or any clothing around the neck as it may hinder breathing. 

  3. Turn the patient on his one side that will allow him to breathe better

  4. Clear the surroundings and keep sharp objects away from the patient

  5. Put a soft cushion under his or her head

  6. Remove spectacles if he/ she is wearing one

  7. Don't try to restrict his/her movements. 

  8. Stay with that person till he feels normal

  9. Do not try to give CPR to the patient as he/she will be able to breathe on his/her own after the episode of seizure

  10. Do not offer any liquid or food to him/her till he/ she is fully awake. 

There is a common myth that you should keep something in a patient's mouth to prevent the tongue from falling back. But this is completely wrong because putting something in their mouth can damage their teeth, and they can even bite you.

First aid for the patient in a wheelchair

Apart from the general first aid measures mentioned above, you should also keep in mind the following measures if the patient is having a seizure episode while he/ she is in a wheelchair.

  1. Do not try to remove the seatbelt unless it is causing any injury.

  2. Lock the wheelchair by putting the brake on.

First aid for a patient in water

  1. Help the patient to keep his head above water.

  2. Remove the patient out of the pool as soon as the jerking stops.

  3. You may take assistance from floatation devices and seek help immediately.

Some of the seizure episodes do not require emergency treatment. However, please note you must opt for emergency services if-

  1. It is the first episode of seizure.

  2. The patient has other diseases such as diabetes, pregnant, or cardiac disease.

  3. The patient faces breathing difficulty.

  4. The seizure continues for more than 5 minutes.

  5. The person has repetitive seizures consecutively.

  6. The patient is injured during the seizure.

  7. A seizure episode happens in the water.

If you or your loved ones experience epileptic episodes, please consult a neurologist now.

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