Last week, Kelly Osbourne was rushed to the ER after suffering a seizure on the set of her E! show, Fashion Police. And two weeks earlier at the Oscars, Charlize Theron assisted a security guard who was having one. Both headline-grabbing incidents aimed a spotlight on a mysterious medical symptom that can be almost as terrifying to witness as it is to experience. Now out of the hospital, Osbourne says that her doctors still don't know what caused her episode. But the scary truth is, it's not uncommon for an otherwise healthy person to have a seizure.
Find out what the signs are, if you might be at risk, and how to handle it if it happens to someone you're with.
A seizureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s frightening signs: Seizures are the result of abnormal electrical pulses in the brain. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re usually characterized by jerky convulsions, body trembling, and muscle contractions that may make a person black out and/or collapse to the ground, as Kelly Osbourne reportedly did. Not all seizures have these obvious physical symptoms; sometimes a sufferer will simply feel confused, blank, or disoriented. And because these tip-offs are so subtle, she may not even realize sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had a seizure, says Jacqueline French, MD, a professor of neurology at New York University Langone Medical Center and president of the American Epilepsy Society. An episode typically lasts from 30 seconds to three minutes, after which the brain returns to normal.
WhoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at risk: If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had head trauma in the pastÃ¢â‚¬”for example, a concussion bad enough to knock you outÃ¢â‚¬”you may be more prone to seizures. A family history of seizures, brain infections such as meningitis or encephalitis, and even very low blood sugar can also put you at higher risk. But as in Kelly Osbourne's case, often no underlying cause is ever ID'd. "If a person has just one seizure, it may be considered an isolated incident," French says. "But suffering two seizures in any time period meets the definition of epilepsyÃ¢â‚¬”a neurological disorder characterized by unprovoked seizures.Ã¢â‚¬Â Luckily, regular meds can keep epilepsy under control.
What to do if you witness one: First, call 911. Though the seizure will typically stop on its own after a few minutes and a sufferer will return to normal, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take any chances. While you wait for EMTs to arrive, maneuver the person to the ground so sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lying on her back, then cushion the back of her head with something soft, like a jacket or your purse. Tilt her head to the left, which makes it easier for her to breathe and prevents saliva or vomit from going back into her lungs, French says. Clear the area of sharp objects so she can't injure herself if she's convulsing violently, and keep her comfortable until help arrives.