COLUMN: Seizures...signs and treatment, by Dr Tim Baker, St John Ambulance

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A seizure can be caused by something interrupting the electrical activity in the brain.

This leads the muscles in the body to contract uncontrollably and usually causes the person to lose responsiveness. It’s also known as a convulsion or fit.

In adults, seizures are the most common symptom of epilepsy, but they can be caused by other things, such as a head injury, alcohol poisoning or someone with diabetes with low blood glucose.

With any kind of seizure it is really important to keep checking:

•The casualty’s level of response and pulse.

• That they are breathing

If you think someone is having a seizure, there are six key things to look for:

1. Sudden loss of responsiveness.

2. Rigid body with an arching back.

3. Noisy difficult breathing.

4. Convulsions (jerky uncontrolled movements).

5. Loss of bladder and bowel control.

6. Afterwards they may be confused, tired and fall into a deep sleep.

What you need to do if someone is having a seizure?

• Don’t restrain or move the casualty.

• Protect them from hurting themselves - clear away any potentially dangerous objects, like hot drinks or sharp objects.

• Make a note of the time when the seizure started and how long it lasts.

• Protect their head by placing something soft underneath it, like a towel, and loosen any clothing around their neck.

• Once the seizure has stopped, the casualty may fall into a deep sleep – if they do, open their airway and check their breathing. If they’re breathing, put them in the recovery position. If they stop breathing at any point, prepare to treat someone who is unresponsive and not breathing.

• Keep checking their breathing, pulse and level of response.

Call 999 or 112 for medical help if:

• It’s the casualty’s first seizure, or the cause is unknown.

• They’re having repeated seizures.

• The seizure lasts more than five minutes.

• They’re unresponsive for more than ten minutes.

For quick, easily accessible first aid information, the St John Ambulance app is available free on smartphones and the website www.sja.org.uk offers demo videos, an interactive game, and lots of free advice.