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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:

  • Remove any dangerous objects from the area around the person or in his or her path.
  • Do not try to stop the person from wandering unless he or she is in danger.
  • Do not shake the person or shout.
  • Stay with the person until he or she is completely alert.

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.

  • Tell the person that he/she had a seizure
  • Make sure he/she is breathing normally
  • Check his/her awareness by asking a few questions; such as, Where are you, and What day is today?
  • If a tonic-clonic seizure has occurred, tell the doctor what happened.
  • If necessary, offer to call a taxi, a friend, or a relative to help the person get home safely.


Dial 911 or your local emergency number for help if:

  • The person is pregnant or has diabetes.
  • The seizure happened in water.
  • The seizure lasts more than five minutes. Timing the seizure using a watch is helpful because a brief seizure may seem longer than it is.
  • The person does not begin breathing again or does not return to consciousness after the seizure stops.
  • Another seizure starts before the person regains consciousness.
  • The person has two or more seizures in a row.
  • The person has injuries from the seizure.
  • This is a first seizure or you think it might be. If in doubt, check to see if the person has a medical identification card or jewelry stating that they have epilepsy or a seizure disorder.


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

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