Seizures: When to Go to the ER

No doubt about it, watching or experiencing a seizure can be scary. Seizures can affect people of any age, race, or socioeconomic group. 

When should you go to the ER if you or someone you love has a seizure? First, let’s define what a seizure is, the types of seizures you might see, and the most common causes of seizures. Then we’ll go into the details of what might require a trip to the emergency room.

What Are Seizures and What Causes Them?

A seizure causes uncontrolled spasms or convulsions of the body. Typically, it’s caused by abnormal electrical activity of the brain, as with epilepsy.

According to the Journal of Neurology, one in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy or recurring seizures at some time in their life. Seizures are more commonly seen in children and older adults, less so in younger adults.

Not all seizures are caused by epilepsy. Seizures also result from a long list of illnesses, injuries, and diseases, including:

  • Stroke 
  • High fever
  • Brain or head injury
  • Inadequate brain development
  • Brain tumor
  • Infection of the brain or surrounding tissue
  • Poisoning with carbon monoxide, lead, or other substances
  • Abnormal blood sugar or electrolyte levels
  • Genetic disorders and brain abnormalities
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or withdrawal
  • Medication side effects
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Lupus, kidney failure, and other illnesses
  • Stress 

The doctor may not diagnose epilepsy unless a patient has repeated seizures. Unfortunately, nearly half of seizures have no identifiable cause.

What is the difference between an urgent care facility and an emergency room? Which one should you visit in an emergency? Learn more here.

Types of Seizures

Different types of seizures are determined by their severity, how much of the body they affect, and the frequency of occurrence.

Partial Seizure

A partial seizure affects a small part of the brain. The patient may experience abnormal sensations, muscle contractions, or hallucinations, including taste or smell.

Petit Mal Seizure

Petit is a word that means small. Even though the seizure is labeled small, it doesn’t reduce the impact.

Petit mal seizures may also be called non-convulsive or status epilepticus seizures. The term is used to describe complex partial seizures that may include unresponsiveness and brief staring episodes. The patient may be confused but not unconscious. 

Petit mal seizures are more challenging to recognize than convulsive seizures. Whether or not a petit mal seizure requires an ER trip depends on how long and frequent the seizures usually are.

Grand Mal Seizures

As the word “grand” implies, these are the big seizures where the patient is convulsing. You may hear a doctor use the term “tonic-clonic” or “convulsive status epilepticus.”

This seizure affects all parts of the brain and typically ends in one or two minutes. However, the patient may experience symptoms of unconsciousness or disorientation for longer. 

Acute Repetitive Seizures or Clusters

If someone experiences any type of seizure occurring in groups or clusters over a period of hours or days, they may be diagnosed with acute repetitive seizures. The individual usually recovers between seizures, and the clusters end independently.

Signs and Symptoms of Seizures

Everyone is different. Someone who experiences a seizure may not have the same signs and symptoms as another. However, there are some commonalities.

Some individuals experience an aura or warning before the seizure begins. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Convulsions with rhythmic jerking
  • Isolated abnormal movements of a limb
  • Periods of staring or abnormal stiffening without jerking
  • Loss of responsiveness or alertness, yet the eyes remain open
  • Incontinence or loss of bladder control
  • Extremely shallow breathing during the seizure followed by a deep breath during recovery

Someone who has a seizure may take some time to transition back to normal, which is a recovery period for the brain. It could last from a few seconds to a few hours and may involve combativeness on the part of the patient. 

After a seizure, you may notice or experience changes in mood, fatigue, and weakness.

What To Do If You See Someone Having a Seizure

First of all, DO NOT place anything in the person’s mouth or attempt to restrain the convulsions.

Move harmful objects out of the way and cushion the person’s head. Protect them from falling if you can. Then, loosen ties, scarves, or other neckwear. 

After the convulsions end or if the individual is vomiting, roll them onto their left side to protect the airway and help drain mouth secretions. Make sure the airway is clear, and the person is breathing. If not, begin rescue breathing and seek immediate medical attention.

Observe the following, taking a video with your phone if possible:

  • Length of the seizure
  • Movements involved
  • Direction of the head and eye movements
  • The time it takes to return to full consciousness and alertness

Report everything to the medical professional taking care of the patient. A video is helpful because you might not notice or remember everything in such a stressful situation.

Just like a hospital, Family First ER is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year to quickly treat any conditions that require prompt attention. Learn more about our emergency services.

When to Go to the ER or Call 911

Treat a seizure as an emergency if you observe or experience any of the following:

  • A seizure lasting more than five minutes
  • A first-time seizure
  • Continuing unconsciousness after the seizure stops
  • Injury or other serious symptoms like trouble breathing
  • Multiple seizures close together
  • Fever is present
  • Persistent confusion
  • The patient is pregnant or diabetic, or the seizure is a marked change from the typical type and duration for that person

Especially if you don’t know about the person’s medical history or are unable to obtain that information from them, it’s best to get emergency medical attention.

What Happens in the Emergency Room?

Once the patient is admitted, the physician will order a neurological examination to determine the cause, if possible. Typically, the exam includes an EEG (electroencephalogram) to record abnormal brain activity.

The doctor may order a brain scan to identify potential causes, like a tumor, or determine which area of the brain is affected. 

After diagnosis, the patient may be given anti-seizure medication. Once the patient regains consciousness or responsiveness, the doctor will ask about medical history, symptoms, and triggers.

Family First ER Offers Emergency Care for Seizure Victims

Understanding the signs and symptoms of a seizure can help someone regain control of their life. It’s critical to know the location of the nearest medical center.

Family First ER is staffed with medical professionals who can care for most medical emergencies. Our doctors and nurses are fully prepared to handle seizures and other medical emergencies with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.

Contact us today to learn more about our emergency services for seizure patients.