The Catholic University of America

 Seizure Disorders

What is a Seizure? A seizure is a series of misfiring neurons in the brain that affect a person's behavior.  The out-of-sync signals may keep the brain from understanding what the eyes see, or may weaken leg-muscle tone and cause a person to lose balance and fall.  Some people stare, some fall down, and some loose consciousness entirely.


What causes a person to have a seizure disorder? Aside from epilepsy, there are a number of conditions that can cause seizures.  Some seizures are caused by problems ranging from stroke to kidney or liver failure.  Others are caused by withdrawal from (or allergic reactions to) drugs or alcohol.  In addition, people who have had head injuries or trauma to the brain are also susceptible to seizures.  Hypoglycemia and severe infections of the brain can also trigger seizures.


Are there different types of Seizures? Yes. The most commonly known are Petit-Mal and Grand-Mal Seizures.  A Petit-Mal or absence seizure often makes the person stop and stare for a moment or two.  A Grand-Mal or Tonic-Clonic seizure often makes the person fall, get stiff, and then shake.  There are also conditions that look like seizures but really aren't seizures at all.  They are called pseudoseizures- literally, false seizures.  A false seizure is considered a psychological condition.  Without really thinking about it, the mind "decides" to have a seizure.   Pseudoseizures are often a way of coping.  They are a way in which the mind can try to deal with some difficulty.  Other types of seizures can make a person fall, or jerk just one arm or leg, or change the way things look, sound, taste, or feel.


What triggers them?  Each person's condition is different.  However, some of the common triggers include flashing lights, lack of sleep, stress, loud noise, change in temperature, diet, or change in medication.  Most times there is no way to tell.  However, not taking medication regularly will often cause a seizure.  For these reasons, many people with seizure disorders will track their seizures (time of day, circumstances). 



Suggested Guidelines for Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders


1) Remain Calm. Please keep in mind that other students will tend to mirror the emotional reaction of the instructor.  Note: the seizure is painless.


2) Do not try to restrain the person. There is nothing you can do to stop the seizure once it has begun.  It must run its course.


3) Clear the area around the individual so that he/she does not injure him/herself on hard or sharp objects. Try not to interfere with movements in any way.


4) Don't force anything between the person's teeth.


5) When the seizure is over, let the person rest if he/she needs to.


6) First Aid for Seizures (convulsions, generalized tonic-clonic, and grand mal)

  • Cushion head
  • Loosen tight neckwear
  • Turn on side
  • Nothing in mouth
  • Look for I.D. tag
  • Do not hold down
  • As seizure ends, offer help


7) Although most seizures end naturally without emergency treatment, a seizure in someone who does not have epilepsy could be a sign of serious illness. It isn't generally necessary to call a doctor or EMT unless the attack is followed most immediately by another major seizure or the seizure lasts more than 10 minutes. Call medical assistance if:

  • Seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
  • No "epilepsy/seizure disorder" I.D.
  • Slow recovery, a second seizure, or difficult breathing afterwards
  • Pregnancy or other medical I.D.
  • Any signs of injury

The most important thing is to REMAIN CALM and CALL FOR ASSISTANCE, IF NECESSARY.


For more information about Seizure disorders and Epilepsy, call the Epilepsy Foundation of America at 1-800-EFA-1000 or