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Seizure First Aid

What You Should and Shouldn’t Do if You Witness a Seizure

Although most seizures are not medical emergencies, witnessing them can be frightening. Depending on the type of seizure, the individual may fall, shake, jerk, and lose consciousness.

Seizures occur when there are abnormal electrical impulses in the brain, and they are often associated with epilepsy. Seizures can also be complications of other conditions, such as strokes, brain tumors, heart attacks, head injuries, diabetes, and alcoholism.

Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States. It affects people of all ages, and is more common in young children and older adults. After the age of 55 the rate of epilepsy begins to increase.

Because seizures are common, you may need to assist someone during, or after, a seizure someday. Here’s what you need to know.

What To Do:

  • Stay calm — Epileptic seizures usually do not require emergency medical attention.
  • Time the seizure — A seizure lasting less than five minutes is usually not an emergency.
  • Check for medical ID — A medical ID may tell you whether or not the person has epilepsy.
  • Ease the person to the floor
  • Help them breathe easier — Turn the person on their side with their mouth pointed toward the ground, and loosen any clothing around their neck.
  • Clear their surroundings — Keep the individual away from anything sharp, hard, or otherwise hazardous. Place something soft, such as a folded jacket, underneath their head.
  • Remove any eyeglasses or sunglasses
  • Stay with them — Help ensure the person’s safety during the seizure and, when they wake, calmly explain what happened as they will likely be disoriented. Offer to help get them home safely.

What Not To Do:

  • Do not restrain their movements
  • Do not administer CPR — During the second phase of a tonic-clonic seizure, also known as a grand mal seizure, the individual will experience muscle convulsions. They may appear to stop breathing as their chest muscles tighten. Their muscles will relax as this phase of the seizure ends, and breathing should resume normally.
  • Do not put objects in their mouth — It is a myth that someone can swallow their tongue during a seizure. Placing an object in their mouth could cause them to choke or break their teeth.
  • Do not offer food or water until the person is alert

When to Call 911:

  • The seizure lasts longer than five minutes
  • It is a first-ever seizure
  • The person has another seizure after the initial one has ended
  • The person becomes injured during the seizure
  • The person has another health condition, like diabetes or heart disease, or is pregnant
  • The seizure occurs in water
  • Normal breathing does not resume
  • The person does not wake up after the movements have stopped
  • The person asks for medical help