What is epilepsy, and what causes the seizure?

A seizure, commonly referred to as a fit, is caused by a sudden, brief failure in the system that governs the brain cell communication system. Normally the nerve cells in the brain are constantly active, sending messages from one to the other about 80 times in a second. The brain handles this much activity with ease. But in people with epilepsy, this activity can suddenly jump to 500 or more messages a second. This burst of hyperactivity can produce a seizure of one kind or another, the type depending on the part of the brain that becomes overactive.

The cause of about half the cases of epilepsy cannot be determined. In the other half, the condition can be attributed to various factors that can damage the brain’s delicate electrochemical network – severe blows to the head, a shortage of oxygen at the time of birth, alcoholism, brain tumors and various infections of the brain. Epilepsy is sometimes inherited, but not as often as was thought in the past. Because it does sometimes run in families, intermarriage in two such families increase the risk in the children, and genetic counseling is advisable. But in fact, anyone can develop epilepsy at any time of life.

First aid given to someone having grand mal seizure

Remember that the seizure is temporary and will end by itself. Your job is to take care of the victim during seizure so that he doesn’t come to grief or do anything to harm himself.

Because the convulsions that come with a grand mal seizure may cause the person to thrash about and hit nearby objects, you should move hard or sharp objects, such as chairs and tables, out of the way. Protect his head from banging against the floor by putting something flat and soft (such as a folded jacket) under it. Don’t try to restrict the person’s movements.  His muscle spasms and jerking movements are being controlled by brain activity. They are automatic, and you cannot stop them; trying to do so may cause injury. Turn the person gently on his side to keep the airway clear. Breathing is naturally shallow during a seizure and may even stop momentarily. Loosen any tight fitting garment around the neck. Don’t insert anything (including your fingers) in his mouth. That some have seizure can ‘swallow’ his tongue is a fallacy; a spoon or any other object placed in the person’s mouth can injure his jaw or teeth. In the a rare event that the victim is not breathing after the seizure, check to see if the airway is clear, then give artificial respiration if you can and are trained to do so.

In general, stay calm and see that others around you do likewise. When the seizure has ended, comfort the victim and ensure he is able to get home, or has somewhere to rest until completely recovered. If the seizure continues, or if another begins shortly afterwards, or if consciousness doesn’t return after the shaking movements have stopped, call an ambulance. Although a person suffering from epilepsy doesn’t need to visit a doctor for every fit, anyone who has a fit for the first time or has some other medical condition should certainly see a doctor. The seizure may be a sign of a more serious condition; for instance, a woman who has a fit in pregnancy may be suffering from eclampsia, which can be dangerous for both mother and child.


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