Monday, June 02, 2008


Senator Ted Kennedy is undergoing surgery for a brain tumor today. The first indication that a pathology was involved was his recent episode of a seizure. The events that lead to his recent diagnosis are important to understand.

What exactly is a seizure and why does it happen? A seizure occurs when our brain has an abnormal electrical signal, similar to an unexpected, sudden burst of lightening. The particular area of the brain involved dictates what symptoms someone might experience from uncontrollable shaking (muscle spasms) to staring spells to a loss of consciousness. The term epilepsy describes someone who has many seizures. Much like a fever is our body’s way of telling us that something is not right, a seizure is our brain’s way of raising a red flag. An abnormal electrical signal can be sent as a result of any of the following reasons: injury to the head, brain infection, brain tumor or stroke. In addition, anything that disrupts the environment our brain cells live in can also cause them to become irritated and result in a seizure: low blood sugar, drug use (cocaine etc), alcohol withdrawal or very high fevers.

So, besides calling a health care professional, what do you do if someone is having a seizure? In general, not interfering with a seizure is often the right thing to do. Remember that a seizure is completely involuntary, so don’t try to stop a person from shaking or place anything in their mouth. However, if the person starts to show signs of vomiting, quickly turn them to their side so that they able to expel everything that comes out of their mouth (swallowing it might result in lung damage). You can also attempt to place a cushion under their head to prevent them from repeatedly hitting their head on the floor. Try to move all objects away from the person so that they can do less harm to themselves – create as much space around the individual as you can. After a seizure, the person will likely be in a deep sleep, disoriented or agitated. Whatever the situation, most seizures are self-limiting and you should refrain from giving the individual anything to eat or drink until the person is completely alert and oriented.

Blog: courtesy of Dr. Roger Kapoor.
References: please see links.

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