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Seizures: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Why Seizures?

First Aids

Epilepsy is a disorder of the nervous system that starts with a burst of abnormal electrical activity within the passageways of the brain. This misfiring causes a “glitz” in the normal brain function, which is outwardly displayed as a convulsion or seizure that occurs again and again over time. The hallmark of epilepsy is the quick way in which a seizure takes place. A flickering light or a lack of sleep can trigger a seizure.

There are many reasons why people have convulsions or seizures. Epilepsy is the most common, but there are other causes:

  • High fever
  • Head injury
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Drug use or withdrawal
  • Brain tumors
  • Poison
  • Electric shock
  • Hyperventilation
  • Shock (because not enough oxygen is being sent to the brain)
  • Hypotension (which is very low blood pressure)
  • Hypoxia (a decrease of oxygen in the arteries)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), especially in a diabetic

The Dangers of Seizures

As we have pointed out, seizures by themselves are not necessarily dangerous except when they occur for the first time in an otherwise healthy individual. But because of the possibility that an underlying medical condition has caused the convulsion, it's important to get the person to the emergency ward for help as soon as the seizure has passed.

The other danger of seizure is purely environmental. A person can have a seizure and fall to a hard floor, injuring his or her head. A person can have a seizure while swimming, and he or she will be in danger of drowning. A person can have a convulsion while driving, which brings up a lot of serious side effects. And, if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes, there is always the possibility of heart, kidney, or brain damage.

Because of the potential dangers in these situations, people should be aware of each other's medical history, especially when traveling on business or pleasure. Medication storage should be noted, and everyone should know what to do for first aid care if a person in the group has a seizure.

Waiting for the Seizure to Subside: The “DON'Ts” of First Aid

There's very little you can do while someone is having a seizure except to move any furniture out of harm's way. You can loosen the person's clothing and try to help him to the ground as he starts to fall.

However, there are a lot of things you should NOT do when a seizure is taking place. These “do nots” are critical.


  • Attempt to restrain the person having the seizure. You can cause the person to tear muscles or break a bone.
  • Force anything between the person's teeth. This can result in broken teeth—or a broken finger—yours.
  • Throw ice cold water on the person in the hopes it will “shake” him or her out of it. Not only will splashing water have no effect, but it can cause the person to choke!

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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.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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