What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can be defined as a tendency to have recurrent seizures that originate in the brain.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is the name for occasional, sudden, rapid, and excessive discharges from the grey matter of the brain. It can cause a disturbance of consciousness, behaviour, emotion, motor function and perception or sensation.

What causes epilepsy?

We don’t always know what causes epilepsy but possible causes include structural damage to the brain (stroke, tumour, scarring following injury,drug/alcohol misuse, birth trauma and infections to the brain e.g. meningitis or encephalitis. Also there can be an inherited cause (rare genetic disorders of which epilepsy is a symptom e.g. tuberous sclerosis.

How many types of are there?

There are many types of seizures but there are basically two groups:

  1. Partial – only part of the brain is affected
  2. Generalised – in which the whole brain is affected

Tonic clonic seizures (formally known as Grand Mal seizure) are the most common type of seizures. The stages of a tonic clonic seizure include a warning sign or aura (may not always be present). During the tonic stage the muscles stiffen and the person may fall to the ground with breathing temporarily stopping. During the clonic stage there is a period of jerking movement when breathing returns. Breathing may be abnormal and noisy. Finally there is a recovery period which can cause drowsiness. During this stage the person may sleep and show signs of confusion.

The type of seizure a person experiences depends on the part of the brain where abnormal activity starts and the area of the brain it spreads to.

How can I help the person having a seizure?

  • Note the time and time the length of the seizure
  • Clear a space – move objects that may be harmful
  • Cushion the head to prevent head or facial injury
  • Remove spectacles if worn
  • Loosen tight neck wear
  • Turn the person on their side if possible to aid drainage
  • Wipe away excess saliva
  • Reassure the person if they appear confused
  • Check for any obvious injury
  • Observe the person and remain with them until they are completely recovered
  • During recovery some people may be confused or wander about aimlessly. During this time the person should be accompanied and led away from any source of danger.
  • Some people may want to sleep- make sure the person is not concussed and keep an eye on them while they are sleeping.

Do Not!

  • Put anything in the mouth
  • Restrain or restrict movement during the seizure
  • Give anything to eat or drink
  • Move the person unless they are in danger

Reasons to call an ambulance can include:

  • If you know it is the person’s first seizure
  • The seizure continues for more than five minutes
  • One seizure follows another without the person regaining awareness between the seizures
  • The person is injured during the seizure
  • If in doubt

For more information

The Irish Epilepsy Association
249 Crumlin Road
Dublin 12