Fits, seizures, and convulsions – information that can help

Studies show that the majority of us would have no idea of what to do if we came across someone having a seizure.

Getting the right support when a seizure occurs can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

What these studies also show:

  • 60 per cent of us did not realise that you can die from epilepsy.
  • Worryingly, 1 in 8 people said they would place a spoon or ruler in the patient’s mouth to stop the person biting their tongue, even though this could risk serious injury or even choking.
  • Although almost two thirds of people say that they would try to assist someone having a seizure, they also admit that they wouldn’t know what to do.
  • Less than half (1 in 2) would protect the head, even though this is the best practice and can save the person from serious injury.
  • Approximately 42% of deaths caused by seizures are avoidable, and many lives could be saved if there was a greater awareness of what to do to support a person having a seizure.

Seizures can occur after a head injury or anything that directly affects the brain, such as a tumour or epilepsy.

Other common triggers include:

  • Alcohol – commonly associated with the onset of seizures particularly after a heavy drinking spell as the alcohol levels fall.
  • Lack of sleep – and sleeping in late can trigger a seizure if there is already an underlying condition.
  • Emotional stress – can also induce seizures if there is an underlying predisposition.
  • Exposure to flickering light – contrary to common opinion this is a rare trigger.
  • Fever (in infants and small children – extremely common, 1 in 20 under 5s will convulse if their temperature rises)
  • Drugs – commonly induce seizures

Seizures can present in many different ways:

It may start with a screaming sound (as the muscle spasm forces air out of their lungs) and the person may go rigid, just staring straight ahead or they may go rigid and thereafter experience incontrollable spasms. They may or may not be aware of what is happening.

How to help if someone is fitting:
Someone fitting can be extremely distressing to witness and people are often unsure how to help.

  • Move things away from them to avoid injury, protect their head, but do not pick them up or restrain them. (Place something soft like your jacket or a pillow under their head.)
  • They may bite their lips or tongue during the fit, but there is nothing you can do to help this whilst they are in the midst of a seizure. Do not let anyone put anything in their mouth.
  • Look at your watch and time the fit. If the fit lasts for more than 3 minutes, phone the emergency services immediately.
  • If they are experiencing a fit for the first time, they should be admitted to hospital for observation and tests.

A fit can last from seconds to minutes. The patient may go blue and could stop breathing for up to a minute. Once the fitting stops, they may be unconscious and breathing and should be rolled into the recovery position on their side to keep their airway open. After this they are likely to be very sleepy. They may be confused and fractious following the convulsion; be calm and reassuring, they will return to their normal selves shortly.

SafeTech provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. SafeTech is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

Contact us for further information and training in First Aid, Fire, and Health & Safety.

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