When to Call 911

A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. Seizures can take several forms from staring to severe muscle contractions.

Call 911 or seek medical help immediately if:
  • A seizure lasts more than 5 minutes.

  • A second seizure follows immediately after the first seizure stops.

  • Breathing or consciousness does not return after the seizure stops.

  • The person is having a high fever or heat exhaustion.

  • If the person is pregnant or has diabetes.

  • If an injury occurs during the seizure.

What is a Seizure?

A seizure occurs when the electrical impulses created, sent, or received by neurons (nerve cells) in the brain are disrupted.

Other causes of seizures include:
  • Sleep deprivation

  • Hyponatremia or low blood sodium, possibly from taking diuretics

  • High fever

  • Brain tumors

  • Stroke

  • Head trauma

  • Medication, from taking certain pain relievers or antidepressants

  • Illegal or recreational drugs

What Does a Seizure Look Like?

Seizures can take many forms and a person having a seizure can have a range of symptoms.

  • Temporary confusion

  • Staring

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Emotional or cognitive symptoms including anxiety, deja vu, and fear

  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs

Types of Seizures

Focal Seizures

  • Can occur with or without loss of consciousness

  • May stare into space and not respond

  • May show repeating motions like chewing, swallowing, walking in circles, or hand-rubbing

General Seizures

(a seizure that happens in all areas of the brain)
  • Absence seizures – often seen in children, and include staring into space, eye blinking, lip smacking, or other subtle movements. They may occur in clusters and cause loss of awareness.

  • Tonic seizures – cause the muscles to become stiff, particularly in the arms, legs, and back. This causes the person to fall.

  • Atonic seizures or drop seizures – cause loss of muscle control, resulting in collapse or fall.

  • Clonic seizures – cause muscles to jerk with rhythmic or repeated movements, usually in the face, arms, and neck.

  • Myoclonic seizures – cause brief jerks or twitches of the arms and legs.

  • Tonic-clonic seizures – can cause loss of consciousness, loss of bladder control, tongue biting, and occasionally loss of bladder control. This is the most dramatic type of seizure.

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