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Seizures: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

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A seizure or convulsion happens suddenly. There's rarely any signal. Nor can the person about to have a seizure say, “Watch out! Here comes a seizure!” The person hasn't a clue that a seizure is about to occur—unless he or she has had them in the past. Symptoms can be dramatic and scary to behold (which is usually what's called a grand mal seizure), or they can be so mild that the few seconds of lost consciousness goes by without anyone being aware of it (which is called an absence or a petit mal seizure).

Seizures Come in Many Sizes and Shapes

There are more than 20 types of seizures, which are distinguished by determining where the electrical signaling in the brain misfired and how far the “brainstorm” spreads. If the misfiring occurs in the area of the brain that governs the movement of a particular limb, only that limb will jerk spasmodically. If the misfiring occurs in the area of the brain that controls vision or hearing, a person might suffer from hallucinations. And if the misfiring occurs in the limbic system, which covers the emotional arena, a person might become hysterical and anxious. (See Why Head Injuries Are So Dangerous.) These singularly symptomatic seizures are called “partial” or “focal” seizures.

Usually, people know they have seizures; it's a condition many people have had to deal with since birth. Those people usually wear Medic Alert bracelets or necklaces to alert others of their condition, and they usually carry appropriate anti-epileptic medication (such as Klonopin or Dilantin). These people know what to do and what to expect. There is no need to take one of them to an emergency ward when he suffers a seizure.

The symptoms of a grand mal or partial seizure can include the following:

  • A sudden loss of consciousness combined with a fall to the ground
  • Rigid body stance, followed by uncontrollable spasms, jerking, or twitching
  • Eyes rolled upward
  • Face and lips turn blue
  • Foaming at the mouth or drooling
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Biting of the tongue
  • Temporary breathing stoppage

A seizure can last as long as 90 seconds.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to First Aid Basics © 1996 by Stephen J. Rosenberg, M.D. and Karla Dougherty. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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