Seizure Symptoms: How to Assist the Victim

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Seizures occur because the brain becomes irritated and an "electrical storm" occurs. This "electrical storm" affects the normal connections between brain cells, causing abnormal brain function. The electrical surge may affect most of the brain causing it to shut down (generalized seizure), or it may affect only small parts of the brain (focal seizure). In a generalized seizure, in which much of the brain is involved, muscle shaking occurs because the brain is sending out signals to every muscle group, directing them to contract. Most seizures are self-limiting and are followed by a so-called postictal period, when the brain can take time to "reboot and restart" all its programs, similar to a computer when it is rebooted.

Seizures are a common event, and 4% of people will experience at least one in their lifetime. The potential to have a seizure depends upon the threshold of the brain to withstand excess electrical activity. In infants and children, high fevers can cause this threshold to lower, resulting in febrile seizures. A blow to the head can cause an electrical spike causing a post-traumatic seizure, and sometimes seizures just happen.

The patient needs a medical evaluation to look for the reason for the seizure. Is there an infection? Are there electrolyte abnormalities in the blood? Is there a structural problem in the brain? Often there is no obvious reason why the first seizure occurred, and CT or MRI scans of the brain as well as an electroencephalogram (EEG) may be ordered to look for a cause.