Seizures in Survival Scenarios

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Seizures occur when the brain’s electrical system misfires. Instead of sending out signals in a controlled manner, a surge of haphazard energy goes through the brain.  These abnormal signals can cause involuntary muscle contractions, poor control of certain organs, and loss of consciousness.  A person with chronic problems with convulsions is sometimes said to have “epilepsy” and may be called an “epileptic”.  There are several types of seizures:

Types of Seizures

Generalized Seizures may involve the entire brain.  There are several types that have been identified:

  •  Petit Mal seizures: No involuntary contractions, but a temporary loss of concentration or even consciousness.  Blank staring may be noticed.
  • Grand Mal seizures:  Shaking and jerking with loss of consciousness, bladder control, and sometimes violent shaking and jerking.  Absence seizures (petit mal) — Symptoms may include staring and brief loss of consciousness. Strange sensations known as “auras” (smells, colors, etc.) may herald an upcoming convulsion.
  • Myoclonic seizures:  Involuntary movement of the muscles without loss of consciousness (usually).

Partial seizures, known as “Jacksonian” seizures in the past, are caused by abnormal signals from one localized part of the brain. They may involve involuntary shaking of just one limb or specific twitching behavior.  The patient may notice auras prior to some partial seizures. Although vision may be temporarily impaired, there may or may not be changes in mental status.

(Update: Since the writing of this article, the classification of seizures has changed. They can be found here:

There are various causes of convulsive disorders, such as:

  • High fever (in children, mostly)
  • Head injury
  • Meningitis (Infection of the central nervous system)
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumors
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Idiopathic (unknown – about 50% of cases)

Symptoms of Seizures and Convulsive Disorders

In a survival scenario, there won’t be the sophisticated equipment such as EEGs (electroencephalograms) and Brain Scans to make the diagnosis, so we will have to watch for symptoms to identify the problem.  It is important to know that one seizure does not make someone an epileptic.  Multiple episodes are required to be certain. In some cases (especially childhood seizures associated with fevers), a person might even “outgrow” the condition.

In addition to auras that give some warning that an attack may be imminent, there are also triggers that sometimes cause a convulsion.  A good example is a bright flashing light.  Avoidance of these triggers will decrease the number of episodes.

The most important aspect of treatment when intravenous medication is no longer available will be to prevent the patient from injuring themselves during an attack.  A tongue depressor with gauze taped around it and placed in the mouth was once a standard recommendation, but it was found to cause injuries to both the patient and the rescuer.  Keep everything, including tongue depressors, away from the patient’s mouth (especially your fingers).

You shouldn’t restrain the person physically, but remove nearby objects that could cause injury. An exception is if the patient is standing when the seizure starts.  In this case, grab the patient and gently lower them to the floor.  Placing them in the  CPR “recovery” position (discussed later in the book) will help keep their airway open.

Do not give oral fluids or medications to an epileptic after a seizure until they are fully awake and alert. If the convulsion is caused by a fever, as in children, cool them down with wet compresses.  Anyone in your survival group with a convulsive disorder should work towards stockpiling their medicine.  Popular drugs are Dilantin, Tegretol, Valproic Acid, and Diazepam (Valium).  A frank discussion should emphasize the importance of extra medications in cases of natural disaster or other emergencies.

Natural alternatives have long been espoused to decrease the frequency and severity of convulsions.  Many vitamins and herbal supplements have a sedative effect, which calms the brain’s electrical energy.  They may be taken as a tea (1 teaspoon of the herb in a cup of water) or as a tincture (an extract with grain alcohol).  Here are some that have been reported as beneficial for prevention:

  •  Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Kava (Piper methysticum) – (too much may damage your liver)
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis,
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Vitamin B12 supplements
  • Vitamin E supplements

Vegetable juices may help eliminate toxins that may induce seizures. Drink a combination of carrot juice, cucumber and beet juice; if possible drink a half liter a day.  Coconut oil, 3 tablespoons a day, has also been reported to decrease seizure frequency.  The scientific evidence warrants more research; be aware that your experience may vary.

Dr. Bones

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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