Ask Patricia Gibson and she can tell you numerous stories that convey the misconceptions associated with epilepsy. She will tell you about people who have been misdiagnosed and later arrested for their odd behavior following a seizure. She will tell you that she's known people with epilepsy who have been inadvertently hurt by would-be good Samaritans. Most importantly, she will tell you that there are ways to help.
Gibson, director of Epilepsy Information Services at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, provides patients and their families with connections to treatment, information and education. During National Epilepsy Awareness Month (November), Gibson would like to continue spreading the word about the proper ways to recognize and deal with people having an epileptic seizure.
"Statistically, one in 10 of us will have a seizure at some time,'' she said. "So recognizing and being able to take care of handling a seizure is just something that everybody needs to know.''
When someone is having a seizure, the goal is to keep that person safe until the seizure stops naturally. Here are some basic first aid tips offered by the nonprofit Epilepsy Foundation of North Carolina, with some added comments by Gibson.
•Don't hold the person down or try to stop seizure movements.
•Clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp and time the seizure with a watch.
•Loosen ties or anything around the neck that may make breathing difficult and put something flat and soft, like a folded jacket, under the head.
•Turn the person gently onto one side to help keep the airway clear. Do not try to force the mouth open with any hard implement or with fingers. Gibson said that people who are having a seizure will not swallow their tongue; in fact, attempting to hold the tongue down can harm both the person having the seizure and the person attempting to give aid.
•Don't attempt artificial respiration except in the unlikely event that a person does not start breathing again after the seizure has stopped.
•Stay with the person until the seizure ends naturally and be friendly and reassuring as consciousness returns. Gibson warned that people coming out of seizures can be disoriented and may be fearful, distrustful or display other distraught emotions.
•If the person does not stop seizing after five minutes, continues to have a series of seizures, or is unconscious or unresponsive after the seizure ends, stay with them and have someone call 911.
"Knowing these tips," Gibson said, "can go a long way in preventing further harm to a person suffering through a seizure."
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center