Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home

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A seizure is the uncontrolled movement of muscles. It happens when nerve cells in the brain become overexcited and do not work properly. Seizures usually last less than 5 minutes. They are followed by a period of sleepiness and confusion that can last for several hours. Seizures in cancer patients can be caused by high fevers, head injury, serious infections of the fluid around the spine and brain, an imbalance in body chemistry, and tumor growth in the spine or brain.

What to look for

  • Eyes stare blankly or roll back
  • Patient suddenly loses control of urine and bowels
  • Jerking movements of the body, especially the arms and legs

What the patient can do

  • Talk to the doctor about your seizures. Bring the person who saw your seizure to the doctor with you to answer the doctor’s questions about it.
  • Take anti-seizure medicines as prescribed.

What caregivers can do

  • Keep the patient safe. If a seizure starts while the patient is in bed or on a chair, cradle the patient in your arms to keep them from falling to the floor and hitting their head.
  • Stay with the patient.
  • Stay calm.
  • Loosen any clothing around the patient’s neck.
  • If the patient falls to the floor, put padding (such as rolled-up clothes or towels) under their head and roll them onto their side.
  • If the patient is lying on their back, gently turn their head to the side if possible. Do not move any part of the body forcefully.
  • Try to notice what type of movements the patient makes, how long the seizure lasts, and what parts of the body move with the seizure.
  • Do not try to open the mouth during a seizure, even if the patient is biting their tongue. Keep your fingers and hands away from the patient’s mouth.
  • Do not move the patient unless they are in a dangerous location (for instance, near a hot radiator, glass door, or stairs).
  • Once the seizure is over, cover the patient with a blanket and allow them to rest.
  • Do not give medicines, food, or liquids until you call the doctor and the patient is fully awake.
  • If the patient is known to have seizures, use side rails and bumper pads on their bed. Be sure someone is with the patient when they are walking or sitting in a chair.
  • Give anti-seizure medicine as prescribed by the doctor.

Call the doctor if the patient:

  • Has a seizure, once it’s over and the patient is comfortable (If someone else is with you, stay with the patient and have the other person call the doctor.)

Last Medical Review: 11/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2013