Breaking Dawn for Epilepsy
Jan 31, 2012 - 10:39:27 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Epilepsy recently received an unexpected burst of national media attention, when reports arose of epileptic seizures triggered during a pivotal scene in the blockbuster movie The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1. Medical experts suggested that strobing red, white and black imagery and special effects could be harmful for patients with a particular form of the disease.
The resulting interest focused on a rare form of epilepsy – photosensitive epilepsy, which involves seizures triggered by visual stimuli that form patterns in time or space, such as flashing lights, bold regular patterns, or regular moving patterns – but it underscores the need for greater public awareness of the disorder, and especially what to do if someone suffers a seizure.
As a neurologist who experienced epileptic seizures when younger, I know first-hand the importance of educating the public about how to respond to such a seizure. As Chair of the Epilepsy Foundation, I have been helping lead a national public awareness campaign to “Get Seizure Smart” – something that everyone should be.
Approximately two million people in the United States have epilepsy, and nearly 140,000 Americans develop the condition each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder in the United States, after Alzheimer's disease and strokes. It affects more people than cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease combined. One in 10 adults will have a seizure sometime in life.
Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. When a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy. As the Epilepsy Foundation explains, a seizure happens when a strong surge of electrical activity affects part or all of the brain. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. They can have many symptoms, from convulsions and loss of consciousness to some that are not always recognized as seizures by the person experiencing them or by health care professionals: blank staring, lip smacking, or jerking movements of arms and legs.
How do you help someone having a seizure?
There is a lot of false information about how to treat someone having a seizure. People are often told that the first step is to ensure that the seizure victim does not choke on his or her tongue – that you should put a tongue depressor or your own finger in the person’s mouth.
This is completely untrue; you should never put something in the mouth of someone suffering from an epileptic seizure. Instead, you should gently guide the person having a seizure away from all possible hazards and sharp objects, and turn the person onto one side to ensure that the airway remains open. Once you have made sure that the person will not injure himself or herself further during the seizure, stay calm, and try to keep track of how long the seizure lasts. If it goes on for more than five minutes, you should call 911.
Here are the specific steps recommended by the Epilepsy Foundation, if someone you know has an epileptic seizure:
Keep calm and reassure other people who may be nearby.
Don't hold the person down or try to stop his or her movements.
Time the seizure with your watch.
Clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp.
Loosen ties or anything around the neck that may make breathing difficult.
Put something flat and soft, like a folded jacket, under the head.
Turn him or her gently onto one side. This will help keep the airway clear. Do not try to force the mouth open with any hard implement or with fingers. It is not true that a person having a seizure can swallow his or her tongue. Efforts to hold the tongue down can cause injury.
Don't attempt artificial respiration except in the unlikely event that a person does not start breathing again after the seizure has stopped.
Stay with the person until the seizure ends naturally.
Be friendly and reassuring as consciousness returns.
Offer to call a taxi, friend or relative to help the person get home if he or she seems confused or unable to get home alone.
Knowing what to do in case of an epileptic seizure can be a matter of life and death. If you, a family member, or a friend suffer from epilepsy, it is especially important to understand the disease. More information is available at www.epilepsyfoundation.org.
We should all look forward to the dawn of a day when all Americans know how to respond to an epileptic seizure – and are Seizure Smart.
The author is Chief of Neurology for the Spectrum Health Medical Group, the multi-specialty group of more than 600 providers associated with Spectrum Health, the award –winning Michigan healthcare system. For more information, go to: http://www.spectrumhealth.org/.
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