Generalized seizures are a common type of seizure in which abnormal electrical impulses affect the whole brain, temporarily preventing it carrying out its usual function. Symptoms are wide and varied, and it may cause someone to lose consciousness, cause their bodies and limbs become rigid and they may have jerking movements. Afterwards they may feel drowsy and take some time to regain their full level of consciousness. Epilepsy is the most common condition causing seizures, and is diagnosed if you suffer persistent seizures and are likely to continue getting seizures. Anti-epileptic medication is available to reduce the chance of future seizures.
People may have warning signs that a seizure is about to happen and this is called an aura. This is because abnormal electrical activities can start in one part of the brain before spreading to the whole brain. As a bystander, signs that someone is having a seizure include a sudden collapse to the floor, possibly with becoming unconscious, rigid and stiff muscles, jerking of arms and legs, they may wet or soil themself, they may bite their tongue, they may become floppy, have blue lips and experience ragged breathing. If seizures last longer than 5 minutes this is a medical emergency and you need to call 999 for urgent medical attention. If this is a first seizure for someone, they should also get an ambulance to hospital urgently.
Many can’t identify any particular triggers, but others can be sensitive to certain conditions – either within themselves or the environment – that make a seizure more likely. Poor sleep, stress, certain medications, alcohol and street or party drugs and flashing lights are all known triggers for a seizure. Keeping a diary can be helpful in identifying potential triggers.
Epilepsy is the condition that causes most seizures. Other conditions can put you at higher risk of developing seizures, including a head injury, infections of the brain such as meningitis, brain tumours or a stroke. Serious events at birth, such as the brain being deprived of oxygen briefly, can result in seizures. Seizures can develop at any age, but epilepsy most seizures start in childhood or those over 60. There is a family link, with you more likely to develop epilepsy and seizures if a close family member suffers.
If this is your first seizure, it’s important to tell your doctor what led up to the seizure, what you were doing at the time, what any witnesses said they saw, and how you felt afterwards. You may not be able to give an accurate account, as memories are usually wiped out during and after any seizure. Your doctor will also be concerned as to whether you injured yourself during the seizure, for example, in falling to the ground. It’s important your doctor counsels any family members how to keep you safe during any future seizures. You will be referred urgently to a fit clinic where a specialist neurologist will investigate you further by organizing EEG and further imaging of the brain. While being investigated and pending a diagnosis, for your own safety and that of others, you should not drive or operate heavy machinery, in case you have another fit at a critical time. Similarly, you will be advised not to go swimming or bathe alone, for fear of drowning.