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Seizures: Brief Version

What is a seizure?

A seizure happens when nerve signals in the brain are not working right. This can cause strange feelings and actions. Sometimes muscles will twitch or jerk. You may even lose consciousness.

What is the cause?

A seizure can happen for many reasons. You may have a seizure if you:

  • hurt your head
  • had a brain injury at birth
  • have an infection or tumor in your brain
  • have a stroke

You might also have a seizure when:

  • You have been abusing drugs.
  • You suddenly stop using a substance you are addicted to, like alcohol, cocaine, or sleeping pills.
  • Your body chemicals are not in balance. For example, your blood sugar is too low.

Often it is not known why you started having seizures. If you have several seizures and no cause is found, you may have a condition called epilepsy.

What are the symptoms?

Here are some of the symptoms of a seizure:

  • You may just keep staring.
  • A part of your body may twitch, shake, or jerk.
  • You may feel, hear, see or even taste things that are not really there.
  • You may lose consciousness.
  • You may lose control of your bladder muscles and wet yourself.
  • You may suddenly fall.
  • You may seem confused.

The 2 most common types of seizures are:

  • Grand mal: If you have a grand mal seizure, you lose consciousness and fall down. Your body may jerk in a violent way for 1 or 2 minutes. Then you go into a deep sleep for a few minutes.
  • Petit mal: Petit mal happens when you have a short period of "spacing out." You may just be staring. Your eyelids may flutter. The seizure lasts just 10 to 30 seconds. You could have hundreds of these seizures a day. You’re awake, but you are not able to understand what is going on around you.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will try to find and treat a cause for the seizures. Your provider may give you medicine to help stop the seizures. Talk to your provider about your medicine and how long you will have to take it.

Your friends and family should know first aid for seizures and CPR. When you have a seizure, they should:

  • Help you lie down on a bed or the floor.
  • Loosen the clothes around your neck and take off eyeglasses.
  • Not try to hold you down.
  • Move things away from you that could hurt you.
  • Not put anything in your mouth.
  • Check to make sure you are breathing.

It will also help to:

  • Turn you on your side in case you throw up.
  • Move you only if necessary to keep you from getting hurt (for example, by furniture).

Someone should call 911 if:

  • It is the first time you have had a seizure.
  • You have stopped breathing.
  • The seizure lasts 5 minutes or longer.
  • You have another seizure right after the first one.
  • Your lips or face look blue.
  • You fall and hit your head during a seizure.
  • A seizure happens after a head injury.

If you are not breathing, someone should start giving you CPR and keep giving it until the ambulance arrives.

If you keep having seizures one right after another or have one seizure for a long time, it can be dangerous. You may not be getting enough oxygen. It is a medical emergency and you will need help.

How can I take care of myself?

Stay healthy:

  • Follow your healthcare provider's advice. Take your medicine exactly as your provider tells you. Go to all of your checkups and get your blood tests to make sure you’re getting the right amount of medicine.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Get enough rest and exercise.

At work or at school:

  • Tell your boss and co-workers or teachers at school that you may have a seizure.
  • Tell them also what to do if one happens.

Keep safe:

  • Stay away from jobs that could put you in danger. Don’t work with heavy or fast-moving equipment.
  • Don’t work high off the ground or near water.
  • Ask your healthcare provider which sports are safe for you.
  • Ask your healthcare provider when you may safely drive a car again.
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet.

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You keep having seizures even though you are taking your medicine the right way.
  • You have side effects from your medicine.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-07-29
Last reviewed: 2011-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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