Managing Epilepsy: Seizure First Aid
Epilepsy is a common condition in our community that can develop at any age regardless of gender or ethnic group. Around 1 per cent of the Australian population currently live with epilepsy, and 1 in 25 Australians will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their life.
Considering a significant amount of people are living with the disorder throughout the community, it’s most important to understand how to provide seizure first aid, should you find yourself in a situation.
The facts and stats
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that is characterized by a tendency to have seizures. Seizures are the result of sudden, usually brief, excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. It's important to note that epilepsy is not a mental illness, contrary to the popular misconception.
- Around 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy and nearly 80% live in low- and middle-income countries
- 70% of people with epilepsy could live seizure-free if properly diagnosed and treated
- 800,000 Australians will develop epilepsy during their lifetime
- Epilepsy is more likely to be diagnosed in childhood or senior years, but can be diagnosed at any age
Busting the myths
Myth: If someone is having a seizure, it must mean they have epilepsy
Fact: While seizures can be a symptom of epilepsy, they can also be caused by a variety of events including head injury, high fever, poisoning, drug overdose, or stroke.
Myth: You should put something in a person’s mouth to stop them from swallowing their tongue during a seizure
Fact: It is physically impossible to swallow your tongue. However, when the tongue is completely relaxed and if the person is lying on their back, it can fall to the back of the throat, blocking the airway. Therefore, nothing should ever be placed in the person’s mouth. Instead, they should be rolled on their side into the recovery position once the seizure has stopped.
Myth: You should restrain someone having a seizure
Fact: A restraint will not stop it or slow a seizure down. Restraining someone during a seizure is likely to agitate or harm them and possibly even yourself. Additionally, you can't make a person ‘snap’ out of a seizure. The best thing to do is stay with the person, talk to them calmly, and let the seizure run its course.
Signs and symptoms
A patient having an epileptic seizure may:
- Suddenly call out
- Fall to the ground, sometimes resulting in injury
- Stiffen and lie rigid for a few seconds
- Have rhythmic jerking muscular movements
- Look very pale and have blue lips
- Have excessive saliva coming out of their mouth
- Sometimes bite their tongue or cheek resulting in blood in the saliva
- Lose control of their bladder and/or bowel
- Be extremely tired, confused or agitated afterwards
What to do – How to provide Seizure First Aid
The DRSABCD Action Plan is the first step when providing first aid. Use this to assess the immediate situation.
During the seizure
- Protect the patient from injury by removing any objects around them that could cause injury
- Protect the patient’s head by placing something soft under their head if they are lying on a hard surface
- Time the seizure
After the seizure
- Put the patient in the recovery position as soon as jerking stops, or immediately if they have vomited or have food fluid in their mouth
- Manage any injuries resulting from the seizure
- DO NOT disturb the patient if they fall asleep but continue to check their breathing
- Calmly talk to the patient until they regain consciousness. Reassure them: let them know where they are, that they are safe, and that you will stay with them while they recover.
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