For most people the mention of the word epilepsy conjures up images of a person thrashing around on the floor as they experience a fit or 'seizure'.
Epilepsy is associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain but is actually a very complex condition and the symptoms that one person experiences can differ greatly from another. There have been over 40 different types of epilepsy identified and the symptoms experienced are largely determined by which part of the brain is affected.
In the majority of cases, there is no reason why a person with epilepsy cannot live a seizure free life with the right treatment. The type of epilepsy a person has will influence which medicine is best for them, but somebody's age, current medication and sex are all considered when choosing suitable treatment. Many don't realise that epilepsy can occur at any time during an individual's life and the cause of the condition may be unknown, although a person's genetic 'make-up' is often involved. Epilepsy can also occur because of damage to the brain, such as after a head injury or stoke, or less commonly due to abnormal growth of nerve cells as may be seen in certain types of brain tumour.
Many people are fearful of epilepsy and it is not uncommon for people with the condition to feel that they're being treated somehow differently. As healthcare professionals we have an important role in understanding the condition and problems a patient may encounter in order to help them live normal lives without fear or stigma.
The seizure most people recognise is known as a 'tonic-clonic' seizure when a person usually becomes unconscious and experiences convulsions as their muscles alternate between contracting and relaxing. Understanding what to do if you encounter a person having a seizure can help to keep them safe and well.
So, what should we do if a patient is unconscious and having a seizure? This can be summarised in a useful mnemonic called 'ACTION':
AASSESS: Assess the situation - are they in danger of injuring themselves? Remove any nearby objects that could cause injury.
CCUSHION: Cushion their head to protect them from head injury.
TTIME: Check the time - if the jerking lasts longer than five minutes you should call an ambulance.
I IDENTITY: Look for a medical bracelet or ID card - it may give you information about the person's seizures and what to do.
OOVER: Once the jerking has stopped, put them on their side. Stay with them and reassure them as they regain consciousness.
NNEVER: Never restrain the person, put something in their mouth or try to give them food or drink.
The charity Epilepsy Action have provided simple toolkits which describe first aid for different types of epilepsy. These are useful reference source which include some helpful videos which can be used in your pharmacy so that the team are aware of what to do if they encounter a person experiencing an epileptic seizure.
Herpreet has experience within the community pharmacy sector in both large multiples and independent pharmacies. She worked on a project with Hertfordshire County Council to promote the delivery of equitable health to those with learning disabilities, an initiative which was later rolled out to the whole county.