DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When my son was in high school, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. His first and second seizures occurred at school. No one there had any training on how to handle a seizure. I am writing to ask you to explain to people what a seizure is and how to help a person having one. There is so much misinformation about this. My son, incidentally, has graduated from college and has not had a seizure in the past five years. Thank you. – L.L.

Most people are frightened when witnessing a seizure and are at a complete loss about what they should do. There are many seizure varieties, but I’ll confine my remarks to a grand mal seizure, the kind with the most dramatic manifestations.

All seizures are sudden, excessive electrical discharges from brain cells. A grand mal seizure affects most of the brain, and that’s why its signs are so striking. Quite often, it occurs without warning. The person stiffens and might make a loud moaning noise. He or she then falls to the ground and makes a series of jerking movements of the arms and legs as muscles contract and relax rapidly. The jerking usually lasts about half a minute to a minute.

Bystanders who have never witnessed a seizure are unnerved by it. Invariably, one will try to pry open the seizing person’s mouth so the person doesn’t swallow the tongue. That’s the wrong thing to do. During a seizure, people never swallow their tongues. Onlookers should not try to restrain the arms or legs. They should place the seizing person on his or her side to keep the airway open, and they can loosen the collar or tie. The seizure will run its course in a short time.

Once the muscle contractions have stopped, the person is unconscious for a while and gradually awakens, confused. The best course is to offer the person transportation to a place where treatment can be given if needed, or to call 911 for help.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My father, 84, developed some peculiar, dark-red to blue spots on his right leg. He saw a dermatologist, who made a diagnosis of Kaposi’s sarcoma. I looked on the Internet for information, and everything I read said that Kaposi’s is an AIDS illness. I know my father doesn’t have AIDS. What does he have? How is this treated? The dermatologist didn’t say anything to him about AIDS. – S.D.

Until the AIDS epidemic struck in the early 1980s, Kaposi’s sarcoma was a rare cancer found mostly in elderly men whose ethnic roots lie in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This kind of Kaposi’s sarcoma has nothing to do with AIDS. (There are five different kinds of this tumor.)

Unlike AIDS-related Kaposi’s, your father’s kind progresses slowly and is rarely associated with internal spread. There are many treatments for it. One is radiation. Your father’s life should not be affected by it and should not be shortened by it.

Kaposi’s sarcoma is caused by a herpes virus. It’s not the same herpes of genital herpes or cold-sore herpes. How it’s transmitted is not known with certainty.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I work for a small company that instituted a health insurance program for its employees last year. The insurer turned down my application because I had hepatitis A about five years ago.

I was never sick with the hepatitis and never took any medicines for it. I was working then and never missed a day of work. I am in good health now.

My doctor doesn’t understand why I was turned down. Do you? – P.G.

No, I don’t understand why you were denied insurance either.

Hepatitis A doesn’t cause chronic liver infection as can hepatitis B and C. Once recovered from it, a person should have no further liver-related health problems or any health problems in general. An infection immunizes the person against repeat infections.

Why not write to the medical director of the insurance company and ask for the reason your application was denied? There has to be a misunderstanding here.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have always been a chicken eater and not partial to beef.

This year, at age 62, I cannot seem to control my appetite for beef. I have daily cravings for hamburgers and steaks.

Could this be a vitamin deficiency? I am in good health and am active. – Anon.

It’s not a vitamin deficiency. It’s not a deficiency of anything. It’s one of those hankerings humans suddenly develop for inexplicable reasons. Why? I can’t tell you. I know from personal experience that it happens.

Beef is fine. However, you can’t make it your sole food, and you have to watch your overall fat intake.

Beef, as do all meats, has a hefty supply of fat and unsaturated fat. Fat, especially unsaturated fat, primes the liver to produce cholesterol. Three ounces – not a huge serving – has more fat and unsaturated fat than does 3 ounces of skinless, broiled chicken breast.

It’s fine to eat steak and hamburger, but not every day of the week. Spice up your diet with a little variety. If you (and I) could come down with a craving for fruits, vegetables and grains, we would be far better off.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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