Seizure disorders, such as epilepsy, affect the lives of one in 26 people in the U.S. However, up to 10 percent of all people may suffer a seizure not related to a seizure disorder, explains the Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, there is a stereotype implying that anyone who has a seizure automatically has epilepsy. This is simply not true, but seizures are serious health concerns that should not be ignored.
Seizure disorders make up another of the “Fatal Four” health conditions that impact people with intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) more frequently. Rather than buying into the stereotypes and hype, you need to understand what does and does not constitute a seizure disorder. In addition, you must learn why seizures can be dangerous, myths about them, interventions to take during a seizure and steps to prevent them.
Are Seizures Dangerous?
Depending on what a person is doing at the time of a seizure, the outcome can be deadly. The risks associated with seizures have led to the idea that people living with epilepsy are incapable of driving, working or engaging in other routine daily activities. However, individuals with intellectual disability and epilepsy may still drive, participate in events with peers and go to work. The key to understanding the potential danger of seizures rests in considering the surroundings and the differences between mild and severe seizures.
For example, swimming, driving or working with power tools can become a nightmare if a person seizes and loses control of what he or she is doing. Seizures may be considered dangerous and can potentially cause an injury, explains Healthline. For example, the following incidents may occur during a seizure:
- A person may fall.
- Cooking or being involved in work could result in burns.
- Cuts could occur during the seizure.
- Bruises may result in discoloration or pain at sites injured during the seizure.
Most seizures last less than 90 seconds, but they can last longer. When a seizure results in extremely severe muscle contractions, vomiting or other glandular excretions, such as producing excess saliva, it may be a grand mal seizure, otherwise known as a tonic-clonic seizure. This type of seizure occurs when electrical disturbances are present on both sides of the brain.
Tonic-clonic seizures often consist of two stages: muscle stiffening and loss of consciousness that’s followed by rapid convulsions. In many cases, these seizures may last from one to three minutes, but like any other seizure, they can last longer. Due to the severity of the seizure, excess saliva or contraction of smooth muscle tissues can impair a person’s ability to breath or result in cardiac arrest. The following rules can guide you in recognizing generalized seizures from possible medical emergencies:
- A pregnant woman experiencing any seizure is in a state of medical emergency. Contact emergency medical services (EMS).
- If the seizure lasts more than five minutes, contact EMS.
- If a person vomits or stops breathing for more than 30 seconds, contact EMS.
- If a person regains consciousness after a medical emergency seizure before EMS arrives, encourage him or her to allow EMS to proceed with a comprehensive medical evaluation or treatment.
Myths About Seizures
There are many myths about the dangers of seizures, ranging from holding a person down to sticking fingers in the mouth. Not understanding the proper protocol for dealing with a seizure could lead to an injury for you, as well as the person experiencing the seizure. In a recent article, published by The Miami Herald, Dr. Alyssa Pensirikul dispelled these myths with the following facts:
- A person cannot swallow his or her tongue during a seizure.
- Seizure medications do not always cure seizures.
- Seizure medications can have some side effects, but they tend to improve within a few weeks.
- Many children and adolescents outgrow seizure disorders.
- People with seizure disorders can play sports and engage in routine daily activities, including romance, college, driving and more.
- Flashing lights may trigger a seizure if an electroencephalogram indicates a sensitivity to flashing lights.
- Stress may trigger a seizure, but little research has been conducted on what type of stress impacts seizure risk most.
Immediate Interventions and Ways to Help Prevent Seizures
If a person experiences a seizure, asserts WebMD, immediate action is required to help prevent injury.
- Direct support professionals (DSPs) or other nearby staff members should try to help someone to the floor if possible.
- Move furniture or nearby items to prevent injury.
- Help the person turn onto one side. This will help to prevent aspiration or choking on vomit or excess saliva. Although placing a person in the recovery position might seem ideal, the convulsions from the seizure make perfect placement unrealistic. Instead, focus on helping the person stay on his or her side.
- Do not try to hold the person down.
- Time the length of the seizure.
- Stay with the person until consciousness is regained.
- Do not give fluids or anything to eat immediately after a seizure.
- Contact EMS if appropriate.
The steps to preventing the worsening of future seizures are relatively simple and include the following:
- Take anticonvulsants as prescribed.
- Monitor blood levels of anticonvulsants as prescribed.
- Do not ignore any seizure.
- Document and avoid known seizure triggers.
- Set a sleep schedule to reduce physical stress.
- Avoid illicit drugs and alcohol.
- Use stress-management techniques that each respective person enjoys, such as yoga, journaling, exercising or other activities.
The Big Picture
Seizures can be dangerous. They can lead to aspiration or permanent physical injury, and any seizure could be the one that causes serious problems in the future. Yet, the tendency to ignore minor or mild seizures makes their dangers seem hidden, and this could lead to further problems with the remaining conditions in the “Fatal Four.” In your workplace, you need to recognize the dangers and realities that accompany seizures and seizure disorders.
Knowing the difference between seizure myths and facts could mean the difference between causing an injury and helping a person stay safe.