If you don’t know anybody who has epilepsy, you probably tend to think of it in one form: big, dramatic seizures (usually brought on by flashing lights or brain tumors) that involve bodily spasms, loss of control, and falling out of consciousness. The reality, though, is much more complex. For one, grand mal seizures, as those used to be called (they’re now known as tonic-clonic seizures), are less common among epileptic sufferers than you might think; the diversity of seizure types is big. And for another, the causes of seizures are often more opaque than obvious. A minority of seizures are connected to flickering lights, and many epileptic sufferers don’t know why theirs happen at all.
It’s estimated that about 50 million people worldwide have some form of epilepsy, which makes the importance of understanding seizures pretty vital. If you encounter anybody having a seizure, there are some crucial first aid tips to know. Don’t put anything near their mouth; lie them on their side, in the recovery position; protect them from anything nearby that might hurt them if they collide with it; and stay with them until they’re awake and able to register their surroundings again. Some epilepsy sufferers, as we’ll discover, have some forewarning that a seizure is about to happen and will attempt to get themselves to a safe place. Either way, though, try to time the seizure; if it lasts for longer than three minutes, get emergency services on the phone, as that’s abnormal and the person needs medical attention immediately.
Here are Five things you should know about epileptic seizures, explained.
1.They’re Caused By Electrical Disruption In The Brain
At any point, your brain is a hive of electrical activity: electricity is the method through which cells communicate, which is why we can measure brain activity through electrodes on the skull that pick up on electrical pulses. In an epileptic’s brain, that electrical activity suddenly surges, like a power surge that puts out all the lights in your house. The Epilepsy Society explains that the surge appears to happen when large amounts of neurons have disrupted activity simultaneously, but we’re still in the dark (pun intended) about how precisely the mechanism behind seizures works. We know, from observing epileptic seizure brain activity as it happens, that it involves “sudden, disorderly discharges of interconnected neurons in the brain that temporarily alter one or more brain functions,” as the Society of Neuroscience defines them; but how they happen and why is still unclear.