Helping Patients Manage Seizure Disorders

Wed, August 05, 2009

By David M. Kaufman, M.D., FAAP
Medical Director, Premier HealthCare

For centuries, seizures were one of the most mysterious and misunderstood medical conditions. Even today, some societies mistakenly view seizures as embarrassing or contagious.

But it turns out that seizures are actually a lot like a fever.

As a pediatric neurologist, I see many children with seizure disorders. I tell my patients and their families that, like a fever, a seizure is a symptom of an underlying condition. A fever signals the presence of an infection; a seizure tells us that there are unusual electrical signals in the brain.

Even though epilepsy is one of the most common serious neurological disorders, it is often difficult to pinpoint the cause. In younger patients, seizures tend to be the result of a genetic, congenital or developmental condition. In fact, approximately 35 percent of people with developmental disabilities have seizures, opposed to only 2.5 percent of the general population. For adults, the onset of seizures is often the result of tumors. And people of any age can develop seizures after a traumatic head injury or a central nervous system infection. Regardless of the cause, proper management of seizures can help people to lead more independent lives.

Managing Seizure Disorders

“It is essential for people with seizure disorders to see their doctors frequently, especially if they have developmental disabilities,” said Dr. Debra Shabas, Neurologist and Chief of The Women’s Center at Premier HealthCare. “Regular medication use can help to prevent seizures, but patients need to be checked for side effects, especially if they can’t verbalize symptoms.”

Seizure disorders are usually treated with medication prescribed by a primary physician or neurologist. In some cases, an electric stimulator, surgery or a special diet can be helpful.

For people with disabilities who have seizures, Premier HealthCare (Premier) physicians provide top quality care that is sensitive to their unique needs.

“Seizure disorders can be difficult for patients to understand, so it is essential that they feel comfortable at the doctor’s office,” said Dr. Arlene Garcia, Senior Physician. “At

Premier, patients are greeted by receptionists and nurses who know their names. Our doctors take time to make patients feel safe before proceeding with examinations.”

Responding to a Seizure

Clinicians, direct service professionals, medical social workers, family members and others who work with people who have seizure disorders or epilepsy can prevent emergencies by following a few guidelines:

While hot weather does not in and of itself trigger seizures, dehydration can. Keeping plenty of water handy at all times is an absolute must.

Remember medications when traveling and adjust for time changes. Having a seizure at home is usually not an emergency, but having a seizure in a pool or while hiking can spell disaster.

If a seizure lasts longer than five minutes, or if seizures begin coming in waves, call

911.

Prevent injury by placing something soft beneath the head and rolling the person on to his side to avoid asphyxiation.

Should the person regurgitate, material should be allowed to drip out the side of the mouth by itself.

Objects should never be placed in a person’s mouth by anybody — including paramedics — during a seizure.

After a seizure, professionals, family or friends should stay with the person until he or she appears to act normally.

July 2007