A seizure is the physical findings or changes in behavior that occur after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
The term "seizure" is often used interchangeably with "convulsion." Convulsions occur when a person's body shakes rapidly and uncontrollably. During convulsions, the person's muscles contract and relax repeatedly. There are many different types of seizures. Some have mild symptoms without shaking.
Withdrawal from alcohol or certain medicines after using for a long time
Sometimes no cause can be found. This is called idiopathic seizures. They are usually seen in children and young adults, but can occur at any age. There may be a family history of epilepsy or seizures.
If seizures continue repeatedly after the underlying problem is treated, the condition is called epilepsy.
Most seizures stop by themselves. But during a seizure, the person can be hurt or injured.
When a seizure occurs, the main goal is to protect the person from injury:
Try to prevent a fall. Lay the person on the ground in a safe area. Clear the area of furniture or other sharp objects.
Cushion the person's head.
Loosen tight clothing, especially around the neck.
Turn the person on the side. If vomiting occurs, this helps make sure that the vomit is not inhaled into the lungs.
Look for a medical ID bracelet with seizure instructions.
Stay with the person until he or she recovers, or until professional medical help arrives.
Things friends and family members should not do:
Do not restrain (try to hold down) the person.
Do not place anything between the person's teeth during a seizure (including your fingers).
Do not move the person unless they are in danger or near something hazardous.
Do not try to make the person stop convulsing. They have no control over the seizure and are not aware of what is happening at the time.
Do not give the person anything by mouth until the convulsions have stopped and the person is fully awake and alert.
Do not start CPR unless the seizure has clearly stopped and the person is not breathing or has no pulse.
If a baby or child has a seizure during a high fever, cool the child slowly with lukewarm water. Do not place the child in a cold bath. You can give the child acetaminophen (Tylenol) once he or she is awake, especially if the child has had fever convulsions before.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call 911 or your local emergency number if:
This is the first time the person has had a seizure.
A seizure lasts more than 2 to 5 minutes.
The person does not awaken or have normal behavior after a seizure.
Another seizure starts soon after a seizure ends.
The person had a seizure in water.
The person is pregnant, injured, or has diabetes.
The person does not have a medical ID bracelet (instructions explaining what to do).
There is anything different about this seizure compared to the person's usual seizures.
Report all seizures to the person's health care provider. The doctor may need to adjust or change the person's medications.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
A person who has had a new or severe seizure is usually seen in a hospital emergency room. The health care provider will try to diagnose the type of seizure based on the symptoms.
Epilepsy (to make sure the person is taking the right amount of medicine)
Krumholz A, Wiebe S, Gronseth G, et al. Practice parameter: evaluating an apparent unprovoked first seizure in adults (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society. Neurology. 2007;69:1991-2007.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.