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What to do when someone has a seizure

First aid for seizures

Find out about our Take epilepsy action campaign, and how you can get involved in raising awareness of different kinds of seizures and first aid. You can also download this video.

Tonic-Clonic seizures

The person goes stiff, loses consciousness and then falls to the ground. This is followed by jerking movements. A blue tinge around the mouth is likely. This is due to irregular breathing. Loss of bladder and/or bowel control may happen. After a minute or two the jerking movements should stop and consciousness may slowly return.

Do...

  • Protect the person from injury - (remove harmful objects from nearby)
  • Cushion their head
  • Look for an epilepsy identity card or identity jewellery
  • Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the seizure has finished (see pictures)
  • Stay with the person until recovery is complete
  • Be calmly reassuring

The recovery position

Don't...

  • Restrain the person’s movements
  • Put anything in the person’s mouth
  • Try to move them unless they are in danger
  • Give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered
  • Attempt to bring them round

Call for an ambulance if...

  • You know it is the person’s first seizure, or
  • The seizure continues for more than five minutes, or
  • One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures, or
  • The person is injured during the seizure, or
  • You believe the person needs urgent medical attention

Focal (partial) seizures

Sometimes the person may not be aware of their surroundings or what they are doing. They may pluck at their clothes, smack their lips, swallow repeatedly, and wander around.

Do...

  • Guide the person from danger
  • Stay with the person until recovery is complete
  • Be calmly reassuring
  • Explain anything that they may have missed

Don't...

  • Restrain the person
  • Act in a way that could frighten them, such as making abrupt movements or shouting at them
  • Assume the person is aware of what is happening, or what has happened
  • Give the person anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered
  • Attempt to bring them round

Call for an ambulance if...

  • You know it is the person's first seizure
  • The seizure continues for more than five minutes
  • The person is injured during the seizure
  • You believe the person needs urgent medical attention

First aid for people who use a wheelchair

If you use a wheelchair, or you have other mobility problems, speak to your GP or epilepsy specialist. They should give you a care plan, which includes advice on how people should help you if you have a seizure.

Here are some general first aid guidelines for people who have a seizure in a wheelchair.

Do...

  • Put the brakes on, to stop the chair from moving
  • Allow the person to remain seated in the chair during the seizure (unless they have a care plan which says to move them). Moving the person could possibly lead to injuries for the person having the seizure and the carer
  • If the person has a seatbelt or harness on, leave it fastened
  • if the person doesn’t have a seatbelt or harness, support them gently, so they don’t fall out of the chair
  • Cushion the person’s head and support it gently. A head rest, cushion or rolled up coat can be helpful

The person’s care plan should give advice on what to do after the seizure has finished. For example, whether it is safe to move the person from the chair to put them in the recovery position.

Don't...

  • Restrain the person’s movements
  • Put anything in the person’s mouth
  • Give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered
  • Attempt to bring them round 

First aid in other languages

PDF First aid for seizures: Available in:
For me
Please cushion my head etc

French
German
Spanish

For someone
Please cushion their head

French
German
Spanish

For an English version with illustrations of the recovery position download the printer friendly version at the top of this page.

For first aid posters for tonic-clonic seizures and for complex partial seizures, download the pdf at the top of this page.

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

Code: 
B046, B046C

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated August 2013
    To be reviewed August 2015

Comments: read the 15 comments or add yours

Comments

Having read the comments it is clear that all that we all need is to be aware. I totally agree with the information video because I have seen the "headless chickens" embracing their mobile phones and needlessly panicking,,,,,,, I am new to this having "acquired" a very beautiful young lady of 50 with epilepsy but it is great to know that there are lots of people who know, who care, and who support,,, so thank you to all who give so much......

Andrew

Submitted by Andrew Baczkowski on

thank you for the video. I have done first aid training for seizures, because my daughter occasionally suffers from them, but I hadn't actually seen her have one before because she is in residential care and has been with them when it has happened before. She has just had a seizure while with me, and while I know what to do, when it actually happened I felt really scared and worried that I would miss something. I know I haven't now, which is a relief.

Beforehand, she was making funny sounds, different to normal, but I didn't know it was part of the build up. Then she had a full tonic clonic seizure which lasted for a couple of minutes. She was rigid and sat up, so I put a cushion next to her head, which was close to the wall, so she wouldn't bang her head, then I stroked her face and spoke calmly to her until it passed. Her face and lips went grey for a while and she was a little bit sick, which fortunately came out of her mouth so she didn't choke. She went into quite a deep sleep immediately afterwards, but woke up after about 20 minutes. She's ok now but I'm keeping a close eye on her, she's just a bit pale and tired looking.

Your video has reassured me that I did ok and couldn't have done anything differently, so thank you.

Submitted by Amanda Winter on

hi there i am epilepsy i been ok for a while now,but today i was going down stair to go for a swim and i felt so drunk like i had 10 pints i stood in the water ofr about a min i could not good not where as i felt that bad,a lifted myself up and i lifeguard come to me and she ask me if i was ok and i said to her i feel if i am drunk she said my words were all over the place and i was repeating things and when i stood up my legs went from underneath me,becasue i felt that drunk,they took me upstair to the rest room about 2 hours later i felt totaly better like nothing was wrong with me,do you think it could be something to do with my epilepsy.

Submitted by tracy tolley on

Hi Tracey, that must have been a scary experience for you. It could be something to do with your epilepsy.  Even if it wasn't, it would be a good idea to speak to your doctor or epilepsy nurse. They could look into what happened. They may also want to review your epilepsy to check that everything is ok.

Vicky
Advice and information Team

Submitted by Vicky@Epilepsy ... on

My almost 2yr old son has seizures that present in the following way - he stops breathing and collapses, arms jerk once in front of him and then he goes completely still and starts to lose colour until he goes completely blue. There is no jerking. It's just like his body stops. EEG shows they are epileptic seizures. While we know what to do when it happens I was intrigued to see that none of the advice given above covers these type of seizures or what to do when they happen.

Submitted by Katherine Kowalski on

Hi Katherine,
There are many different types of seizure. Everybody’s seizures are individual to them. Our information looks at the most common types. Tonic-clonic seizures are one of the most common types of seizure. Even if a seizures appear to be similar to someone else’s, it doesn’t mean that they have the same cause or should be medically treated in the same way. 

Vicky Morris
Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Vicky@Epilepsy ... on

If someone starts to have a seizure whilst sitting in their wheelchair should they be helped to the ground or just left in the sitting position?

Submitted by Julieanna Whita... on

Hi Julieanna

Everyone with epilepsy is different and their seizures affect them in different ways. So, it would be advisable if the person in the wheelchair has an individual care plan. This can be done with the guidance from their GP or epilepsy specialist.


We do have a general first aid guide for people with epilepsy who have seizures in a wheelchair on our website.

I hope this helps.

Rosanna
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Rosanna@Epileps... on

Under what circumstances would you give medication to a client while they were haveing a seizure

Submitted by Tony on

Hi Tony

Our first aid instructions are usually to interfere with someone as little as possible while they are having a seizure. It is only necessary to cushion their head and make sure they are not hurting themselves on anything.

The exception to this would be if someone needed emergency medicine. This would be necessary if someone was either in status epilepticus or had a tendency to go into status.

Cherry
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Rosanna@Epileps... on

My brother has just had brain surgery, and mum said that he might have fits or seizures. this information helped me greatly because now i know what to do if he has a fit and mum is not there. thank you.
-Madeleine

Submitted by Madelaine Noonan on

My son of 24 has had seizures since 13 now hw is on 4 different AED.S Is this normal practce ?

Submitted by valerie on

Dear Valerie

Thank you for your question.

Doctors usually try to avoid prescribing more than one epilepsy medicine at a time. This is because the more drugs someone takes, the higher the risk of having side-effects. There may be times, however, when a doctor needs to prescribe two or more epilepsy medicines. This may be to help control someone’s seizures better.

As your son is on four epilepsy medicines, it’s important he is seeing his epilepsy specialist regularly. This way they can monitor any possible side effects of his medicine and alter his treatment if or when possible.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk  or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Regards

Diane Wallace

Advice and Information Services Officer

Epilepsy Action

Submitted by Diane on

Hi, one of my close friends at school recently had a seizure in one of my classes and it was a terrifying experience, she's been to the docotors and they don't know if she'll have another one or not. This has really got to me as I'm one of her good friends and sit next to her in a lot of my lessons. It makes me nervous and worried when I'm around her and I don't know what to do about it. What do I do if she has one and I'm sat next to her in a lesson?

Submitted by Nina on

Hi Nina

Thanks for asking us. It’s great that you want to support your friend.

It can be very scary to see someone having a seizure, especially when it’s someone you care about.

Here is our information about first aid. There are different types of seizures so make sure you are looking at the information for the right kind. Definitely ask your friend what you can do to help. She may have been given some particular information by her doctor.

You could help her by making sure she is safe and not banging into anything. And make sure that a teacher knows as quickly as possible that she is having a seizure.

And the best thing you can do is to be supportive to her. So talking together about what it feels like and what her concerns are, helping her to talk to other people in the class would be brilliant. And if she is having any problems that you can’t work out together, maybe encourage her to go to a member of staff who she feels comfortable with.

And if you have worries that you don’t feel it would be a good idea to share with your friend, maybe you could find an adult either at school or in your family to talk to about them.

As well as our main site, you might also want to look at our website for young people.

Also you or your friend are very welcome to ring our freephone epilepsy helpline if you still have worries or questions.

Cherry

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry on

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