Seizures: What you need to know

A seizure is the result of a disruption of the normal electrical signals in the brain. A seizure can be caused by an area of irritation in the brain. The brain can be irritated by a tumor, swelling, or scarring from surgery or radiation.

What Does a Seizure Look Like?

Many people think of a seizure as a total loss of consciousness and uncontrolled movement. This is called a generalized seizure. People may also grunt or make unusual sounds. With a focal seizure you may have numbness, tingling, weakness, or movement of one or more extremities, or of the face. A seizure could also be a brief staring spell, or an inability to speak for a brief period of time.

How Long Does a Seizure Last?

A seizure may last a few seconds to a few minutes.

How Will I Feel After a Seizure?

With a brief seizure (focal) you may not notice any change in how you feel. As a person comes out of a generalized seizure, he or she may be confused, have difficulty speaking, have a headache, and/or be very tired and need extra sleep. Some people experience increased weakness that may last several days.

How Can I Prevent Seizures?

If you are prone to seizures, your provider will have you on medication to prevent seizures. It is important to take your medication exactly as prescribed. Do not miss any doses. Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications can interfere with your seizure medication, check with your pharmacist before using any OTC medications. Lack of sleep, stress, and alcohol use can also increase your risk of seizures. Other illnesses especially fever or vomiting can also make you more prone to a seizure.

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Avoid stress as much as possible
  • Avoid alcohol

What Happens if I Have a Seizure?

If you have a brief or focal seizure, write down how long it lasted, and what you felt so you can discuss this with your provider. Think about what, if anything may have brought the seizure on (see above). If you have a general seizure, your family should try to keep you safe by:

  • clearing the area around you so you will not hurt yourself
  • not trying to restrain you
  • not putting anything in your their mouth or forcing your mouth open
  • turning you on your side when the seizure is over
  • recording what happed to you during the seizure and how long the seizure lasted

When Should I Call for Help?

Someone should call for help if a seizure last more than 5 minutes, if you have trouble breathing, if you do not regain consciousness, or if you have several seizures in a row. If your family member goes to the hospital for a seizure, it is important for you to know the name and dose of medication they take to prevent seizures and any allergies to medications. If a blood test is done to check a drug level, ask for the result so you can tell your doctor or nurse.