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What to do when someone has a seizure

On this page, find out what to do if you see someone having a tonic-clonic or focal seizure. We explain how you can help, and when you should call for an ambulance.

Tonic-clonic (convulsive) seizures

Tonic-clonic seizures are the type of seizure most people recognise. They used to be called grand mal seizures. Someone having a tonic-clonic seizure goes stiff, loses consciousness, falls to the floor and begins to jerk or convulse. They may go blue around the mouth due to irregular breathing. Sometimes they may lose control of their bladder or bowels, and bite their tongue or the inside of their mouth.

Here’s how to help if you see someone having a tonic-clonic seizure.

Do:

  • Protect them from injury (remove harmful objects from nearby)
  • Cushion their head
  • Look for an epilepsy identity card or identity jewellery – it may give you information about their seizures and what to do
  • Time how long the jerking lasts
  • Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the jerking has stopped (see picture)
  • Stay with the them until they are fully recovered
  • Be calmly reassuring

The recovery position

Don't:

  • Restrain their movements
  • Put anything in their 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 their first seizure or
  • The jerking continues for more than five minutes or
  • They have one tonic-clonic seizure after another without regaining consciousness between seizures or
  • They are injured during the seizure or
  • You believe they need urgent medical attention

Focal seizures

You may also hear this type of seizure called a partial seizure. Someone having a focal seizure may not be aware of their surroundings or what they are doing. They may have unusual movements and behaviour such as plucking at their clothes, smacking their lips, swallowing repeatedly or wandering around.

Here’s how to help if you see someone having a focal seizure.

Do:

  • Guide them away from danger (such as roads or open water)
  • Stay with them until recovery is complete
  • Be calmly reassuring
  • Explain anything that they may have missed

Don't:

  • Restrain them
  • Act in a way that could frighten them, such as making abrupt movements or shouting at them
  • Assume they are aware of what is happening, or what has happened
  • 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 their first seizure or
  • The seizure continues for more than five minutes or
  • They are injured during the seizure or
  • You believe they need urgent medical attention

Seizures in a wheelchair

If a person with epilepsy uses a wheelchair or has mobility problems, their GP or epilepsy specialist should give them a care plan. This should include advice on how to help the person if they have a seizure.

Here is some general advice about how to help someone who is having a seizure in a wheelchair.

Do:

  • Put the brakes on, to stop the chair from moving
  • Let them remain seated in the chair during the seizure (unless they have a care plan which says to move them). Moving them could possibly lead to injuries for both you and them
  • If they have a seatbelt or harness on, leave it fastened
  • If they don’t have a seatbelt or harness, support them gently, so they don’t fall out of the chair
  • Cushion their 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, it should say if it is safe to move them from the wheelchair to put them in the recovery position.

Don't:

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

Seizures in the water

Visit our sports and leisure page to find out what to do if someone has a seizure while swimming.

Find out more about seizures

Free online learning

Take our short online learning module to learn more about different types of seizure and what to do when someone has one.

Order first aid information from the Epilepsy Action shop.

First aid information in other languages

Read information about epilepsy, including first aid for seizures, in Welsh:

Gwybodaeth ynghylch epilepsi, yn cynnwys cymorth cyntaf ar gyfer ffitiau (Welsh)

Download first aid information in one of the following languages:

Środek pierwszej pomocy w przypadku napadów drgawkowych (Polish)

  مرض کے دورہ کے لیے ابتدائی طبی امداد    (Urdu)

Premiers secours pour des crises d'épilepsie (French)

Erste Hilfe bei Krampfanfällen (German)

Primeros auxilios para convulsiones (Spanish)

Code: 
B046.02

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Amanda Freeman, consultant paediatrician and Liz Nelson, Roald Dahl paediatric epilepsy specialist nurse, at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, for their contribution to this information.

Amanda Freeman and Liz Nelson have no conflict of interest to declare.

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

  • Updated September 2016
    To be reviewed September 2019

Comments: read the 11 comments or add yours

Comments

I don't know what to do I had a seizure last night it's first time I've had one should I tell someone ?

Submitted by Sarah on

Hello Sarah
Many thanks for your message. This must be worrying for you.

If you think you have had a seizure, it would be a good idea to speak to your GP. They will talk to you about what happened and may arrange for you to see a specialist doctor at the hospital. They will make sure you get the right treatment and care.

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

Karen
Epilepsy Action Advice & Information Team

Submitted by Karen, Epilepsy... on

I am an elementary school teacher and I was informed a few weeks ago that one of my students has seizures frequently. I really want to be prepared in case something were to happen in my class so this information will be really helpful. Is it best to go to an urgent care center after something like that happens? I will do my best to follow the tips and insights you have laid out.

Submitted by Jessy Shaw on

Dear Jessy
Thank you for your email.

We can only give general first aid information. What you should do following a seizure will depend on what is in the child’s individual health plan (IHP).  In the UK, there are legal requirement on schools to support children with medical conditions. An IHP is generally part of the requirement. The IHP should include information on what care the child needs following a seizure. Please feel free to use our IHP template if you wish to do a care plan for your pupil.

Apart from our first aid information, you may also find our online learning for teachers helpful.

Regards
Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

my brother have the seizure for sometimes.His heart beat increases..then he becomes normal again ...after some time He has another seizure and then another...Any advice?

Submitted by Kamal Aqeel on

Hi Kamal
Thank you for your question regarding your brother.

It must be a worrying and distressing time for you both when your brother has a seizure. I hope you find our information on what to do when someone has a seizure helpful. During a tonic-clonic seizure a person’s breathing and heart beat can be affected.  But it generally returns to normal when the seizure has stopped. It’s relieved by moving someone into the recovery position following a tonic-clonic seizure. This will help their breathing and heart rate return to normal.

If your brother is experience abnormal heart beats when he isn’t having a seizure, it would be best to talk to his family doctor.

As your brother is still having seizures, it’s important he is seeing his epilepsy specialist regular so they can review his treatment and look at other possible reasons for his seizures to still be happening. They may suggest trying a different dosage or type of his epilepsy medicine.

If he has tried various types of epilepsy medicines, it may be the specialist could look into other treatment options for him.

If your brother is not under a specialist, he will need to ask his family doctor to refer him. This would usually be to a neurologist. The ideally would be to someone with a specialist interest in epilepsy, as there are many different neurological conditions, and neurologists tend to specialise in different ones.

Would it help you and your brother could  talk or contact people who understand what you are experiencing.  If yes, we offer the following services to help with this;

local groups, our forum4e online community, facebook and twitter.

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 Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.

Regards
Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

Hi I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 10 1/2 I was a gymnast & while training I just stood there for about an hour my coach blew a whistle in my ear but I didn't move & the same happened again while I was at school both my coach & teacher informed my mum so she took me doctors where I had tests like blood test ect & it was confirmed I had epilepsy so I had to give up my dream of being a professional gymnast but I never let it take over my life not all seizures are the same on 1 hand some could be worse & on the other hand some could be not so bad. There is support for anyone with epilepsy or the families of an epilepsy sufferer. I'm now An adult aged almost 28 & I have been in cardiac arrest 3 times due to my seizures in the space of 1 year so I need an ambulance straight away if I have 1 but I went almost 1 year without having any then sometime this year I had 2 absent seizures but luckily I haven't had anymore since. Link line is a service than can also help you x

Submitted by Lara on

I had a seizure yesterday and am on recovery. Not from my birth but after an accident bump to my head in my early twenties.

Submitted by Alphonzo Vogt on

last week my 16 year old son had a seizure, he's never had one before, but when younger specialised in head injuries! The seizure lasted for 3 minutes and the ambulance crew said it was a clonic-tonic, he can't remember anything from an hour before the seizure till he came round. he's being referred to a specialist, he's due to start college later this week, I'm not sure what to tell them as this might be a one off, but we don't know yet.

Submitted by Helen Caine on

Hi Helen
It is tough being in this limbo land place.

Very many people have a single seizure. So it is entirely possible this is what has happened for your son.

It is quite usual for someone to have no memory from before a tonic-clonic seizure.

The best thing to do during this time is to take precautions as if he has epilepsy. So follow our safety information about bathing, water in general, heights and electrical equipment.

And at the same time, bear in mind that if your son is diagnosed with epilepsy it will be good for him approach the diagnosis as positively as possible.

Hopefully the referral will come through soon and make things a bit clearer.

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

Regards
Cherry
Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on

I was wondering my son has tonic clonic seizures and stops breathing how long should I wait if he doesn't breath, and should I attempt mouth to mouth. He usually starts to breath on his own and when he goes less rigid I put him in the recovery position and do chin lift to help clear his airways. Any help would be most welcome.

Submitted by Debi Haines on