One in 26 people will have a seizure at some point in their lives. And some – around one or two out of 100 – will be diagnosed with epilepsy.

Despite their prevalence, many people are misinformed about seizures and what to do if you or someone around you is experiencing one.

“Seizures can be scary,” says neurologist Gabriel Martz, MD, medical director of the Ayer Neuroscience Institute Seizure and Epilepsy Clinic based in Enfield. “And there is a lot of confusion and myth about them. The more people know, the more they are prepared to get the right help if they experience a seizure, and to help others having seizures.”

Here are six things you should know about seizures and epilepsy, according to Dr. Martz.

> Connect with the Ayer Neuroscience Institute Epilepsy Center

Seizures may look different than you expect.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a person is having a seizure.

Most often, a person having a seizure may seem confused, stare into space, wander, make unusual movements, or be unable to answer questions or talk.

Seizures are classified into two groups.

There are two primary categories of seizures:

  • Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain. These can be characterized by rapid blinking or a few seconds of staring into space. Other types of generalized seizures could cause people to cry out, lose consciousness, fall down, or have muscle jerks or spasms.
  • Focal seizures, or “partial seizures,” are located in just one area of the brain. These seizures might only affect a small part of the brain, and cause twitching or a change in sensation such as a strange taste or smell. A person might also become confused or dazed, and be unable to respond to questions or direction for a few minutes. A focal seizure could be followed by a generalized seizure, meaning that the seizure began in one part of the brain, but then spread to the other side as well.

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Seizure first aid is easy to give.

Here are some easy steps to follow if someone is having a seizure:

  1. Stay with the person until the seizure ends and he or she is fully awake and responsive. After it ends, help the person sit in a safe place. Once they are alert and able to communicate, tell them what happened in very simple terms.
  2. Comfort the person and speak calmly.
  3. Check to see if the person is wearing a medical bracelet or other emergency information.
  4. Keep yourself and other people calm.
  5. Offer to call a taxi or another person to make sure the person gets home safely.
  6. Call 911 and take note of duration of seizure if the person has never had a seizure before.

People with epilepsy can live full lives.

Some may need to learn new ways to manage daily life however, with the right treatment, safety considerations and support most individuals can live a normal life despite their diagnosis.

Epilepsy has many different causes.

Some common causes include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Stroke
  • Infection. Certain infections (such as cysticercosis, the leading cause of epilepsy worldwide) can lead to epilepsy
  • Lack of oxygen during birth
  • Birth defects

Diagnosis is key.

As there are many causes of seizures and many types of epilepsy, the first step in getting control is making the right diagnosis. Epilepsy specialists at the Ayer Neuroscience Institute are trained to help diagnose and manage seizures. Using a full range of EEG and brain imaging tests (like MRI), our board-certified epileptologists are able to diagnose:

  • Seizure
  • Epilepsy
  • Fainting
  • Psychogenic event
  • Movement disorder
  • Sleep attack

What can be done?

Although seizure disorders have no cure, you can manage them with the right support.

If you or a loved one has experienced a seizure for the first time, the Ayer Neuroscience Institute Comprehensive Epilepsy First Seizure Clinic can offer rapid and accurate diagnosis so that appropriate care can be started as soon as possible.

Treatments may include medication, diet changes, surgical intervention and more.