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First Aid For Epileptic Seizures

Most seizures last less than three minutes, so by the time an emergency medication is ready to be administered, chances are the seizure is over.

The most important thing to do during a seizure is to stay calm and protect the person experiencing the seizure. The following guidelines apply to tonic-clonic seizures (convulsions, grand mal) or complex partial seizures.

Guidelines for Immediate Care of Tonic-Clonic Seizures

Cushion the person's head. Banging the head against a hard surface during a seizure may lead to head trauma. Use any available soft object; if needed, use your foot.

Loosen tight neckwear to ease breathing.

Turn the person onto his/her side. Saliva is retained in the mouth during a seizure because the person cannot swallow it. This may lead to choking. Turning the patient on his/her side allows gravity to drain the saliva or any other fluids such as vomit.

Keep the person's airway open. If necessary, grip the person's jaw gently and tilt his or her head back.

Do not insert any object in the person's mouth. Putting an object in a person's mouth will not prevent him or her from biting their tongue, nor will it keep the person from swallowing his/her tongue, as some people think. In fact, any such object can cause more harm by breaking teeth or becoming lost in the throat, leading to choking.

Do not hold down. Do not restrain a person during a seizure unless there is a danger. They may get aggressive if you do so. Allow them to do what they want to do; talk to them in a soft voice to reassure them.

Remove any sharp or solid objects that the person might hit during the seizure.

Note how long the seizure lasts and symptoms that occurred so you can tell a doctor or emergency personnel if necessary.

Stay with the person until the seizure ends.

Guidelines for Non-Convulsive Seizures

If you see someone having a non-convulsive seizure, remember that the person's behavior is not intentional. The person may wander aimlessly or make alarming or unusual gestures. You can help by following these guidelines:

When the seizure is over

After the seizure ends, the person will probably be groggy and tired. He or she also may have a headache and be confused or embarrassed. Be patient with the person and try to help him or her find a place to rest if he or she is tired or does not feel well.


Dial 911 or your local emergency number for help if:


National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research

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Last Reviewed: Oct 07, 2010

Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati