The Caregiver's Journey

Seizures

Seizures happen when the electrical system in the brain misfires. Seizures can be frightening to watch.

Two kinds of seizures may occur following a severe TBI:

  • Early seizures — also called “generalized seizures” or “grand mal seizures” — typically happen during the first week after an injury.
  • Later seizures usually occur after the first week of injury in individuals who have never had a seizure before. People who have late-onset seizures are more likely to have a penetrating injury or one that causes a large amount of bleeding in the brain.

Seizures can be temporary or chronic. Late-onset seizures carry a greater risk of future seizures than do early seizures. A neurologist is the member of the healthcare team who usually diagnoses seizures. He or she will treat seizures with medications.

What you may see:

  • Generalized shaking or jerking of the arms and legs 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Altered attention, emotion, sensation, or movement 
  • Complaints of strange odors or sensations

Late-onset seizures can also cause changes in smell, behavior, or personality. Sometimes, people mistake a seizure as a psychiatric disorder.

Ask your doctor early on about how to recognize a seizure and what to do if one occurs.

How you can help:

  • For a first seizure, call your doctor as soon as possible.
  • If not a first seizure, alert the doctor. Make an appointment to have anti-seizure medication and blood levels checked.
  • Talk to the doctor before adding or stopping medications or herbal treatments. These can change the blood level of the anti-seizure medication and make it ineffective.
  • During a seizure:
    •  Keep calm.
    •  Don’t hold your family member down or try to stop his or her movements.
    •  Loosen ties or anything around the neck that makes breathing hard to do.
    •  Clear anything hard or sharp from the surrounding area.
    •  Put something flat and soft under the head.
    •  Turn the person gently onto one side. This helps keep the airway clear.
    •  Do not try to force the mouth open. 
    •  Stay with the person until the seizure ends.

CALL 911 if your service member/veteran experiences:

  • Difficulty breathing during or after a seizure 
  • Seizure lasting more than five minutes
  • Second seizure that happens immediately after the first seizure
  • Difficulty waking up from the seizure or a second seizure without waking up in between

Some things are triggers for seizures. These include: 

  • Stress 
  • Overuse of alcohol and/or other drugs 
  • Being overworked and/or tired

Help your service member/veteran to avoid these triggers.

Driving laws for people with seizures vary from state to state. Check with your Department of Motor Vehicles to find out what the rules are for your family member, if he or she has a seizure disorder.