Saturday, November 26, 2011

National Epilepsy Month

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By Diane Forrest, RN

When I started nursing school, one of our first visits to the hospital included a tour of a hospital room.   The medical equipment was pointed out and the uses were explained to us.  One of the items taped to the back wall, behind the bed's headboard was a thick wooden tongue depressor that had a foam padded end.  It was explained that the use for this item was to place in the mouth during an epileptic seizure to help prevent biting the tongue, breaking the teeth or obstructing the airway.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that can be described from blank staring to violent shaking convulsions.   One of the earliest mentions of Epilepsy is mentioned in the Bible.  Mark 9:17-22 states that and someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. ...

There are several causes of epilepsy such as:
  • Stroke or TIA
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Dementia such as Alzheimer’s
  • Infections of the Brain
  • Brain Tumors


Epilepsy is diagnosed from physical symptoms and tests such as an EEG, MRI CAT Scan and blood work.  Treatment includes surgery or medication. Certain lifestyle changes such as diet and sleeping habits are also necessary.

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The main treatment is prevention from injury.  If you happen upon a person experiencing a seizure, do not attempt to restrain them; simply remove any objects from their path that could cause injury.  More tips include:

First Aid for Seizures
  • Stay calm
  • Prevent injury


During the seizure, you can exercise your common sense by insuring there is nothing within reach that could harm the person if she struck it.

  • Pay attention to the length of the seizure
  • Make the person as comfortable as possible
  • Keep onlookers away
  • Do not hold the person down. 


If the person having a seizure thrashes around there is no need for you to restrain them. Remember to consider your safety as well

  • Do not put anything in the person's mouth
  • Contrary to popular belief, a person having a seizure is incapable of swallowing their tongue so you can breathe easy in the knowledge that you do not have to stick your fingers into the mouth of someone in this condition.
  • Do not give the person water, pills, or food until fully alert
  • If the seizure continues for longer than five minutes, call 911
  • Be sensitive and supportive, and ask others to do the same


  • After the seizure, the person should be placed on her left side. 
  • Keep in mind there is a small risk of post-seizure vomiting, before the person is fully alert. 
  • Therefore, the person’s head should be turned so that any vomit will drain out of the mouth without being inhaled. Stay with the person until they recover.

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For more information about epilepsy and how you can help, visit this site:  http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/getinvolved/neam/

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