How to aid an epileptic: your actions to save a life

For anyone who has epilepsy or who is around someone with epilepsy, how to aid an epileptic is important very information. Aiding an epileptic can be divided into two major categories. 

First aid or critical care is what is important just before, during and immediately after a seizure. How you treat an epileptic and what you do for an epileptic while they are not having a seizure can be called lifestyle support. First aid is what we’ll call an urgent need. There is no time to waste and you had better know what to do in the event of a seizure because there will be no time to learn. While first aid is urgent, lifestyle support might be more important overall.  With proper help, an epileptic can lead an almost normal lifestyle. For example, the ability to hold a job or go to a store on their own is a big deal for some with seizure disorders. You could even help to reduce the number of seizures.

What to do if someone has an attack

Watching a person having a seizure is a scary thing, but it could be that the safety of the person having the seizure depends on the quick-thinking of bystanders. Because the person having the seizure is often unaware of what is happening, witnesses will be able to provide valuable information to doctors.

First aid for an epileptic

The two major epileptic events that require first aid are Tonic-Clonic also known as Grand Mal and absence knew as dropsy.  When most people think of epilepsy they think of the grand mal seizures (Tonic-Clonic) with the collapsing of the epileptic, jerky movements, strange noises, and tongue biting.  This is normally followed by a period of unconsciousness and silence.  Finally, the epileptic starts to “wake up” sort of.

The first thing to be concerned with is to prevent the patient from hurting themselves.  As they go down to the ground first be aware of potentially lethal objects like a knife, fork, glass or a cliff. Do what you can to prevent major harm. Then protect the head. Help him/her sink to the ground as gently as possible and move everything away that they could bump into. Finally, cradle the head to keep him/her from banging it on the floor.

A seizure does not always look like convulsions or are accompanied by loss of consciousness. Some people may just look detached or wander aimlessly without orientation. A trigger for the development of this type of epileptic seizure can be a completely unexpected thing.

Action to take for less severe seizures

– If someone is having a seizure but it does not result in unconsciousness, there are steps a bystander can take to help the person.

– Guide the person from any danger while looking to see if the person has an ID bracelet or other information that indicates they suffer from epilepsy. Stay with the person until they are obviously recovered and then calmly explain what happened.

– Do not try to restrain the person or act in a way that would frighten or startle them. Do not give them food or drink until they are stable.

 Let someone else dial the ambulance while you tend to the person’s immediate safety. If you are alone helping the person to the ground, clear away immediate hazards and you must leave them long enough to dial the phone yourself. When professional medical help, arrives back off and lets them do their jobs.

Absence (dropsey)

Absence is when the person seems to fall asleep and may fall to the ground. In either case, they temporarily lose consciousness. It does not have the element of the jerky movements so in that sense it is slightly less dangerous. But the danger should not be underestimated.   A fall is a fall. It can still be deadly. The first priority is to help the person to the ground clearly away potential hazards. Then dial the phone first-aid.

Post seizure (waking up)

As the person comes out of a seizure, they look like they are waking up as if they have been asleep for a very long time. They might look like they have a hangover. They will definitely be off-balance and confused. The best analogy is a computer when the power goes out. When the power comes back on it takes time for the computer to start working again. It has to go through a boot process. The human brain works similarly. Unlike sleep when the brain might be considered to be resting a seizure is like having all the circuits spike at the same time, followed by a power outage then a reboot. During the reboot, the person doesn’t understand what’s going on. They don’t realize they just had a seizure.

You must help keep this person from hurting themselves further. If they try to get up try to encourage them to stay seated for a while until professional help arrives. Because their brain isn’t working just yet forcing them to stay seated may be a bad idea. Some people want to take a bath after a seizure. Usually, they take two before they even understand that they’s had a seizure. Baths are normally dangerous for an epileptic. Baths immediately post-seizure are even more so.

When help arrives they will want to know what type of medication the patient is on and when he took it last. The best way to find out is to look at the bottles.  When they arrive to do what you can to stay out of the way and answer their questions. They will instruct you further.

It is not easy for anyone to see another suffer an episode of a seizure. Whether it is a loved one or a complete stranger. It’s to be incredibly important to know the basic first aid facts in case you witness someone having a seizure with no help.

Dr. Ali Elahi

This article is written by Dr. Ali Elahi, a specialist in neuromuscular disorders, certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). His expertise includes evaluation and treatment of patients with epilepsy, stroke, headache, neuromuscular disease, and cerebral palsy.He also manages neurological emergencies in the Intensive Care Units.

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