November is Epilepsy Awareness Month and I proudly wear purple for my sister who experiences seizures.
We should all be aware and alert for any disaster, condition, or illness, but since seizures hit close to home for me, I want you all to be prepared like I am.
My sister was not born with seizures. They started in 8th grade after far too many concussions in sports. When an object would fly at her, her eyes rolled back in her head as her body went limp. She stayed in this unconscious state for various amounts of time and would slip out of it on her own, no matter how hard we tried to awake her. These episodes went on for months and my family became acquainted with them and organized our everyday lives around them. The episodes never stopped, they worsened into grand-mal seizures. In a grand-mal seizure, the patient loses consciousness and experiences violent muscle contractions. In reality, the seizures do not last long, but time seems to go the slowest during. After her seizures, she is exhausted and remembers nothing about the event or anything immediately before. Patients like her are also confused until they regain their memory completely. She does not personally experience all signs and symptoms during her grand-mal seizures that can occur, but an acceptable amount do happen.
Other signs or symptoms that may accompany a grand-mal seizure are an aura, a scream, loss of bowel or bladder control, unresponsiveness, confusion, fatigue, and severe headache. An aura is thought to be a warning feeling before a grand-mal seizure. In my sister's case, she experiences various auras. While at school, she would walk herself to a teacher’s room emotionally close with her. At home, she would let one of us know she was feeling weird or abnormal. Because we are triplets, my other sister and I could feel an abnormal feeling before a seizure occurred. Auras cannot always be seen. As an outsider, if you notice something abnormal in a person you know, it is best to stay with them in case something happens. The patient may also verbally alert bystanders that they are feeling different than usual. Dissimilar to the aura, patients may cry out at the beginning due to muscles around the vocal cords seizing and forcing air out. Noises often occur during a seizure while the vocal cords are continuously squeezed. Loss of bowel and bladder control can sometimes occur before or after a seizure, so be aware. Like I previously stated, unresponsiveness after convulsions is common before memory is fully regained. Confusion is a common symptom as well as fatigue, which I have observed in my sister’s case. Although severe headaches are not found in everyone who experiences grand-mal seizures, they often occur after the event. Not all signs and symptoms mentioned arise concurrently with the activity itself.
Grand-mal seizures occur in stages. To inform you as clearly as possible, I will review all signs and symptoms during the seizure, although not all need to occur. First, the patient will experience an aura. An outside observer would notice something abnormal occurring with the patient such as blank staring, chewing with nothing in their mouth, fumbling, wandering, confusing speech, or shaking. Second, a scream may occur as the patient loses consciousness. Muscles will contract and cause the person to fall to the ground if they are not already laying down. Next, the muscles will contract rhythmically as the patient convulses violently. During this phase, spitting from the mouth and noises can occur. When the convulsions halt, loss of bladder or bowel control manifest. Patients will remain unresponsive for a short period of time and confused when they regain consciousness. After the entire event, fatigue is extremely common often accompanied with a severe headache.
When you see someone have a seizure or are around someone before and notice an aura, it is most important to first get help. Whether it be an administrator, professor, trainer, or adult on sight, call for someone. The situation is easier with more than one person around to help, but not a group of people. Large groups can frighten the patient once they are alert again and I personally would not want everyone to see myself having a seizure. During the seizure itself, it is best to ease the person to the ground as their muscles contract. Second, be sure to clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp to prevent injury and either place something flat and soft under his or her head or support the head itself for safety. Next, remove eyeglasses or loosen anything around the neck. Turning them on their side also improves breathing during the convulsions and prevents choking. Always note how long the seizure lasts. While it can be difficult to watch a seizure, they normally last between 60 to 90 seconds. Even if there is nothing you can do or if you are unsure of what to do, keeping the patient safe while letting the seizure happen is extremely helpful. After, stay with the person until they are fully conscious and help has arrived. Comforting the patient while keeping everyone calm makes the situation easier. There are many steps to take during a seizure that prove to be beneficial to everyone involved, but there are also steps that should not be taken.
First and foremost, do not hold the person down or try and stop movements during convulsion. Second, do not put anything in the person’s mouth. Teeth can be injured or even the jaw. He or she can uncontrollably bite down during the seizure itself. It is important to note that a person having a seizure cannot swallow his or her tongue, but can choke on saliva. Do not try to give mouth-to-mouth breaths similar to CPR as the patient will usually start breathing again on his or her own after. Water or food should also be offered only after the patient is fully awake and alert. A key fact is that 911 does not always need to be called during a seizure.
Only call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, another seizure occurs soon after the first, or it occurs in water. Seizures in water can be dangerous to the patients because of drowning or a large amount of water being swallowed. The swallowed water could cause damage to the heart and lungs, so it is most helpful to have a checkup in the emergency room after. In the rare case that the person was hurt during a seizure, it is also best to call. If a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or pregnancy is present, 911 must be notified.
I am not a doctor or a person with any medical degree. I am just a sister who has had to live with this every day. The information I have presented you has been gathered from research and personal experiences. Seizures are something I wouldn’t wish on anyone as they are frightening to witness. I pray there will a cure one day. It is important to know what a seizure looks like and when to call emergency services. Maybe YOU can save a life one day with this information.