by Skillnet Group, Kent UK
What causes epilepsy?
Billions of tiny cells make up our brains. These cells transfer information from our brain to our thoughts, emotions, actions, actions and feelings. If someone has a short disruption to the brain it is called a seizure.
These disruptions to the brain can be caused for different reasons. Some of the reasons are not even known! Some of the reasons include:
- Brain damage
- Brian scarring
- Chemical imbalance
- Hormonal imbalance
- Having a sensitive, vulnerable brain
How can epilepsy be treated?
Everyone that has epilepsy is different and will have different experiences. Most people will take anti-epileptic drugs (AED's) to stop or reduce the amount of seizures. AED's are not used to treat someone who is having a seizure.
Even though there are lots of types of treatments for different types of epilepsy, some people might not get in control of their epilepsy.
Facts about epilepsy
- About 1 in 200 people will have epilepsy
- 30% of learning disabled people will also have epilepsy of some kind
- In people with severe learning disabilities about 50% will have epilepsy
- Having epilepsy is not caused by having a learning disability
- Epilepsy and learning disabilities are separate causes of brain dysfunction or damage. For example damage at birth, tumours and accidents
Types of epilepsy
There are lots of types of epileptic seizure.
Generalised epileptic seizures affect the whole of the brain. There are different types of generalised seizures:
Tonic clonic epileptic seizure (this used to be called the Grand Mal seizure)
- The person will become stiff and jerk about
- The seizure may begin with a loud cry
- The person will look and sound like they are in pain but they are not
- They are unconscious and are unaware they are having a seizure
- Their breathing will become shallow and slow they will have lots of saliva coming from their mouth
- When a person comes out of a seizure they may be confused and will not remember what has happened. They might have a headache and be tired
Tonic epileptic seizure
- The person will lose consciousness and become stiff.
- If standing the person will fall over
- The person will lose consciousness.
- The person will recover quickly
Atonic epileptic seizure
- Sometimes known as the drop attack.
- This is the opposite of the tonic seizure
- The person loses all muscles tone and goes floppy
- The person is unconscious throughout
- The person recovers quickly
How can I help someone have a generalised epileptic sizure?
Things to do
- Remain calm
- Remember the person is unconscious and feels no pain
- Put a cushion, coat or something soft under the persons head to prevent further injury
- Cup your hands under the person's head if there is nothing around to put under the head.
- Remove objects from the area
- Only move the person if they are in danger. For example at the top of the stairs
What to do after the seizure has finished
- Do put the person in the recovery position as soon as possible
- Do First Aid on any injuries if you are trained in First Aid. If you are not trained in First Aid call for someone who is
- Do wipe away any saliva and if the person is not breathing follow the First Aid (ABC) procedure. Check that there is nothing blocking their mouth
- Do phone an ambulance if the person is not breathing
- Do all you can to avoid the person being embarrassed and keep reassuring them
- Inform a relative or friend
Things not to do
- Do not move the person unless they are in danger
- Do not put anything in the person's mouth
- Do not give the person anything to eat unless they have regained consciousness
- Never try to restrain the person
Absence seizure (this used to be called the Peti Mal seizure)
This type of epileptic seizure:
- Mostly happens in younger people
- Can be mistaken for day dreaming
- The person will look blank and stare into space for a few seconds
- They will not respond to anything going on around them
- The person will become unconscious and will stop what they are doing for a few seconds
- They will not necessarily fall over
- The arms, head and sometimes the whole body will jerk and the person will lose consciousness but only for a few seconds
- They may be thrown off balance
- They often happen in the morning
These seizures affect one small part of the brain
Simple partial seizure
- When someone has one of these seizures they will be aware of what is going on
- They might have a strange taste in their mouth and smell strange smells. These signs might be warnings before a seizure
- These seizures sometimes develop into other seizures
Complex partial seizure
- The person will not be totally aware of what they are doing. They might fiddle with their clothes or even undress
- They may get very confused and act in a strange way
- They make speak but not make sense
- Most seizures end on their own but some seizures will not stop or another one will happen straight after
- If this type of seizure happens you must phone an ambulance straight away
When do I call emergency medical help?
- If someone has injured themselves badly in a seizure
- If they are having trouble breathing after the seizure
- If the seizure does not stop and the person has another one immediately afterwards
- Either call an ambulance, or if there is someone who is trained to give emergency treatment to the person concerned, alert them of the situation
About this article
The Skillnet Group has written this easy to read article about epilepsy, the causes and types of epilepsy and what you should do if someone has epilepsy, in the hope of raising awareness and understanding about epileptic seizures.
Skillnet provide services for people with learning disabilities in Kent. If you have any questions or would like more details about this article, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Skillnet website.
Published: March 2006
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