Seizures and Fainting: How to Know When to Go To the ER

Seizures and Fainting: How to Know When to Go To the ER

If you’ve ever seen someone faint or have a seizure, you know that it can happen suddenly and without warning. It can also be very frightening for everyone involved. Both reactions are the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Diagnosing the source of the seizure or fainting spell is something that should be left to a medical professional, as there are many different conditions that can cause these reactions. Here’s what you need to know about seizures and fainting and when to go to the ER.

Common conditions that cause seizures.

A seizure happens when there is a sudden, abnormal change in the brain’s electrical activity.

“Seizures can be caused by a variety of conditions that directly and indirectly affect our brains,” said Aamr Herekar, MD, a neurologist at Medical City Fort Worth. These include:

  • Brain tumors
  • Brain hemorrhages
  • Developmental malformations of the brain
  • Stroke
  • High fever in children, which can cause febrile seizures
  • Very low sodium levels (hyponatremia)
  • Very low or very high blood sugars
  • Genetic disorders
  • Some medications/drugs

“But by far, the most common causes of seizures are unknown,” Dr. Herekar said.

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that affects about 3.4 million Americans. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 6 out of 10 people with epilepsy have no diagnosable cause for their condition.

About 3% of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy, which means their seizures can be triggered by exposure to flashing lights at certain intensities or certain visual patterns. This type of epilepsy is more common in children and adolescents and episodes can decrease with age.

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How to recognize seizures.

According to Dr. Herekar, seizures can be easy or hard to recognize, depending on which part of the brain is seizing. The person may or may not lose consciousness. The seizure may involve the whole body, repeated jerking of a single limb or simply hand rubbing or picking at clothing.

However, there are common elements to look for that can help you identify a seizure.

“Most seizures include staring, decreased responsiveness and lip smacking movements, Dr. Herekar said.”

When to get medical help for seizures.

When someone is having a seizure, Dr. Herekar says that the best thing you can do is to place them away from harm. For example, keep them away from sharp objects and make sure that they don’t choke on anything by laying them on their side. Don’t put anything in their mouth or hold them down.

Dr. Herekar recommends calling 911 for seizures that:

  • Last beyond one minute
  • Begin to happen more frequently (occur back-to-back)

You should always inform your doctor of any seizures or other unusual medical symptoms regardless of how severe they are.

Common conditions that cause fainting (including seizures).

When someone faints, they lose consciousness due to a sudden decrease of blood to the brain.

Dale Yoo, MD, a cardio electrophysiologist at Medical City McKinney, says that an episode of fainting can be a sign of a seizure disorder.

“That would always be abnormal and needs medical attention,” he said.

Conditions that can lead to fainting include:

  • Seizure disorders (including epilepsy)
  • Electrolyte abnormalities in the heart or brain
  • Dehydration
  • Low or high potassium or magnesium levels
  • Other heart issues, including:

“If fainting is caused by a low heart rate, a pacemaker is the only thing that will correct it,” Dr. Yoo said. “On the other hand, your brain may tell your heart to take a five-second break or your heart does it on its own. It goes on lunch break but you need that five seconds of blood pressure in order to stay awake — otherwise you pass out.”

When to get medical help for fainting.

A fainting episode normally lasts a few seconds to several minutes. Always let your doctor know about any episodes of fainting and seek immediate help for all medical emergencies. When in doubt, call 911 or head to the nearest ER.

If you feel faint:

  • Lie down or sit down.
  • If sitting, place head between knees.
  • Avoid getting up too quickly.

If someone else faints:

  • Position the person face-up.
    • If there are no injuries and the person is breathing, raise their legs above their heart level (about 12 inches) if possible.
    • Loosen belts, collars and other constrictive clothing.
  • If the person doesn’t regain consciousness within one minute, call 911.
  • Check for breathing and begin CPR if necessary.

For expert emergency care in any situation, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or call our free, 24/7 Ask a Nurse hotline.

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