Patient EducationApr | 9 | 2020
Seizures: What You Need to Know
What Are Seizures?
Seizures are caused by abnormal (not normal) electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. The term epilepsy is used when a person has more than one seizure.
What Are the Different Types of Seizures?
There are many different types of seizures. Seizure types depend on where they start in the brain and whether the person’s awareness or movement is affected.
The most common type of seizure is a generalized tonic-clonic seizure (also known as a convulsion). This is when a person loses consciousness (passes out or faints). Their arms and legs may become stiff and have jerking movements. They may also bite their tongue or lose control of their bladder.
Some people may have seizure auras that act as a warning that a seizure is about to happen. Seizure auras lead to sensory symptoms (symptoms that affect a person’s sense, such as taste, smell or touch). This can include experiencing an unusual taste or smell, stomach discomfort or a feeling of fear.
Other types of seizures may cause abnormal movements in only one part of the body. They may also cause a person to stare off and not respond normally.
How Are Seizures Treated?
Doctors use anti-seizure medications to treat seizures. There are many types of anti-seizure medications. Most seizures can be controlled well with anti-seizure medications. Some children will grow out of seizures as they grow older.
It is common to try more than one medication before finding one that works. Some children might need regular blood tests to make sure the medication dose is correct.
It is important to take the correct dose of antiseizure medications every day. Stopping an antiseizure medication suddenly can sometimes trigger a seizure. Talk with your child’s care team before stopping a medication or changing the dose. Tell your doctor if you need help paying for anti-seizure medications, or if you have any difficulty picking up the medications that are prescribed from the pharmacy.
What Are Triggers For Seizures?
Some children will have seizures more often when they experience certain triggers (sights or situations that cause a seizure). Common triggers include:
- Illness or fever
- Not enough sleep
- Menstrual periods (in females)
- Flashing lights or strobe lights
- Drinking alcohol
Can My Child Continue to Participate in School and Other Activities?
Yes, your child can continue school and their normal activities as long as their seizures are under control. Talk to your doctor about whether your child should keep emergency seizure medication at school. Make sure the school nurse knows about your child’s seizure plan in case a seizure happens at school.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe During Their Favorite Activities?
The following simple tips can help keep your child with seizures safe:
- Avoid swimming alone. Children with seizures should always have someone with them when they go swimming.
- If your child is old enough, encourage them to take showers instead of baths.
- Always wear a helmet when riding a bike, scooter or roller-skates.
- Be extra careful with activities in which your child could fall, like climbing trees.
- If your child is old enough to drive, talk with your doctor about whether they can drive. In Massachusetts, the law states that after a seizure, a person cannot drive until they are seizure-free for at least 6 months.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if:
- Your child’s anti-seizure medication is not working or is causing side effects
- Your child cannot take their medication for any reason, such as illness or running out of the prescription
- Your child’s seizures are becoming worse or more frequent
When Should I Call 911?
Call 911 or go to the closest emergency room if your child:
- Has a seizure that lasts 5 minutes or more
- Has more than one seizure in a row without returning to normal in between
Give your child emergency seizure medication while you wait for help.
What to Do If Your Child Has a Seizure
- Stay calm. Most seizures only last a few minutes.
- Move nearby objects and people out of the way to prevent your child from getting hurt.
- Make your child as comfortable as possible. Laying them on their side is best. Do not hold your child down or put anything in their mouth (other than prescribed rescue medication).
- Try to keep track of how long the seizure lasts. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, call 911.
- If needed, give your child their emergency medicine. Do not give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully alert.
After the Seizure Stops:
- When your child is alert, keep calm and reassure them. If there are others around you, ask them to be sensitive and supportive, if needed.
- Call Pediatric Neurology at Mass General for Children to let the care team know about the seizure. 617-724-6400
Rev. 8/2020. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.
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