Seizures happen when the electrical system in the brain misfires. Seizures are common after a moderate or severe TBI, even in people who never had a seizure in the past.

There are two kinds of seizures that can occur following a severe TBI:

  • Early seizures typically happen during the first week after an injury.
  • Late 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 bleeding in the brain.

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 might you see?

  • Generalized shaking or jerking of the arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness (the person can’t be aroused or awakened)
  • Altered attention, emotion, sensation, or bodily movements
  • The person experiencing a seizure may complain about strange odors or sensations in the body (such as buzzing or tingling in the arms, legs, or face)

Seizures can also cause changes in smell, behavior, or personality. Sometimes people mistake a seizure as a psychiatric disorder.

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

How can you help?

  • If it is the first seizure your family member has experienced, call your provider as soon as possible.
  • If it is not the first seizure, alert the provider and make an appointment to have anti-seizure medication and blood levels checked.
  • Talk to the provider before adding or stopping medications or any herbal supplemental treatments. These can change the blood level of the anti-seizure medication and make it ineffective; in other words, these changes can potentially cause a seizure.
  • During a seizure:
    • Keep calm.
    • Don’t hold them down or try to stop their body movements.
    • Loosen ties or anything around the neck that makes breathing difficult.
    • Remove anything hard or sharp from the surrounding area, such as furniture, that they may run into or hurt themselves on.
    • Put something flat and soft under the head such as a blanket or pillow.
    • Once the seizure is over, turn the person gently onto one side. This helps keep the airway clear.
    • Do not try to force the mouth open or hold the tongue, and do not put anything in their mouth.
    • Stay with the person until the seizure ends completely and they regain consciousness (or awareness of their surroundings).

CALL 911 if your family member experiences:

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

Short-term confusion and disorientation can be normal immediately after waking up from a seizure. The service member or veteran may be very sleepy for a while.

Some things are triggers for seizures. These include:

  • Inappropriate levels of anti-seizure medications
  • Overuse of alcohol and/or other drugs
  • Being overworked and/or tired
  • A high level of sensory stimulation (for example, bright lights, loud noises, multiple ongoing conversations) or new environments

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