Most Seizures Fly Under The Radar For Years Before Diagnosis Is Made

DAYTON, Ohio (Oct. 19, 2017) – Confusion, hand twitching and unusual movements of the mouth are all symptoms of the most common type of seizure, but are also so nondescript that most people can experience them for years before being properly diagnosed.

A seizure is a burst of electrical activity in the brain that creates a range of symptoms that can last a few seconds to up to 30 minutes. Seizures are most commonly associated with epilepsy, but is actually something that every adult is at risk of experiencing throughout their life. In fact, our risk of experiencing a seizure increases as we grow older, said Barbara Phillips, MD, an epilepsy neurologist working in the Clinical Neuroscience Institute.

The type of seizure played out in television dramas is known as a grand mal seizure, which causes a person to totally lose control and shake uncontrollably on the floor. This image can give people the wrong idea of the most commonly experienced seizure, which is called a partial or focal seizure, Dr. Phillips said.

“Focal seizures are the kind that a person may experience for up to 20 to 25 years before anyone around them knows it,” said Dr. Phillips, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “They may have strange movements of their mouth or hands, twist their head or eyes to one side, or make noises and say things repetitively.”

Understanding the different types of symptoms that come with seizures is important so that a person receives the right treatment in a timely manner. And in some cases, individuals who experience a grand mal seizure may have had focal or partial seizures first.

“Once a person is having a grand mal seizure it is hard to determine if it started out as a focal seizure, or one that was smaller, and then spread,” Dr. Phillips said.

  • Recognize it for what it is – Remember that seizures can look extremely different. Anyone who seems confused or is making unusual movements in their hands or mouth could very well be experiencing a seizure. Knowing this can help guide your next steps in helping a person. 
  • Make room for safety – One of the most important things is to move things away from the person experiencing a seizure. Remove chairs, tables or any other hard surface that a person may come in contact with while they are unaware of their surroundings. Those who are experiencing a focal seizure may need to be guided to a chair to sit down.
  • Stay calm and call for help – Witnessing a person seizing can be very frightening, however, it is extremely important to stay as calm as possible and to call for help. Dial 911 for emergency, especially if this is the first time a person has experienced a seizure. 
  • Understand your place – Place yourself in the best position when someone is having a seizure. Dr. Phillips recommends positioning yourself in front of the person having a focal seizure as a way to create a barrier between them and other things or people. Do not restrain the person having a seizure or try to hold them down. This only adds to their confusion.
  • Don’t believe old wives’ tales – Remember the advice to place a wallet into a person’s mouth to keep them from biting off their tongue during a seizure? Dr. Phillips says that’s one piece of advice that is no longer followed. Providers now know it is extremely harmful to place anything in a person’s mouth during a seizure because the muscles in the mouth are so strong they can literally snap a pen in half or bite off a person’s fingers.

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