What is a seizure?

Seizures occur when the normal electrical activity in the brain is interrupted. This interruption can occur for a variety of reasons. Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures. Other causes include:

1. Reduced supply of oxygen to the brain.
2. Reduced supply of glucose to the brain.
3. Drugs and alcohol.
4. Diseases that affect the brain.
5. Head injuries.

Seizures do not always result in the person dropping to the floor and convulsing. The effects of seizures can, in fact, be quite mild and result in little more than a reduction in the person's level of response and general awareness.

Recognising a seizure

There are two types of seizure with very distinct characteristics.

Minor seizures
People may display the following symptoms when suffering a minor seizure:
1. Reduced levels of awareness and response.
2. Eyes remain open but unable to focus.
3. Mild twitching movements in the limbs, head and facial features.
4. Grinding the jaw.
5. Moaning/groaning noises.

Action in the event of a minor seizure
1. Get the affected person to sit down on thefloor. This will help to prevent injury if the seizure worsens and they collapse.
2. Most people will show full signs of recovery within a few minutes of the seizure.
3. If the person does not show any signs of recovery after 10 minutes, call for an ambulance.
4. It is rare that a major seizure follows a minor seizure. If this does occur, however, follow the advice outlined below.

Major seizures
The onset of a major seizure can usually be identified by a tensing of the sufferer's body followed by a sharp fall to the floor. Once on the floor, their back may begin to arch and they may begin to exhibit the following symptoms:
1. Noisy/erratic breathing.
2. A blue tinge around extremities such as fingertips and lips.
3. Rapid, uncontrolled movements in the limbs.
4. A tightening of the jaw. This may result in frothing at the mouth or bleeding due to tongue, lips and gums being bitten.
5. Loss of bladder or bowel control.

As the affected person begins to recover they will feel confused and disorientated while their levels of awareness and response improve. It is normal for them to feel sleepy and exhausted.

Action in the event of a major seizure
1. The sufferer will almost definitely collapse during a major seizure. Try to control the fall.
2. Ensure their safety by removing any objects that may cause injury if they are struck.
3. Place padding under their head. Improvise if necessary by using clothing.
4. DO NOT place anything in their mouth.
5. Loosen any clothing which may restrict their airway.
6. Try to time the seizure
7. When the seizure has subsided:
  • Check their responsiveness, airway, breathing and circulation.
  • If unresponsive and breathing normally or semi-concious, place them into the recovery position.
  • If unresponsive and not breathing normally, call emergency services/ask a helper to call emergency services and commence CPR as soon as possible.
  • If the sufferer is breathing, you can put a blanket over them to preserve their modesty. They may have wet themselves and you should help them avoid embarrassment.
  • Reassure the casualty if responsive and continue to monitor them and assess any injuries.
Call for an ambulance if:
  • You have concerns with their ABC's.
  • You feel unable to cope with the situation.
  • The sufferer is not known to be epileptic and you suspect the seizure may have been caused by something else, such as a head injury.
  • Convulsions last for five minutes or more.
  • They suffer from a number of smaller seizures.
  • They show no sign of recovery after 10 minutes.
  • They injure themselves.