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What to do when someone has a seizure

Cymraeg

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 learningTake 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

Beth i’w wneud pan fydd rhywun yn profi trawiad (Welsh)

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 7 comments or add yours

Comments

My husband has had 2 sezuires in 3 months. He had one just now. His lips went blue, bit his tongue. I just stayed clam, kept him safe and told him to breath. The only worry I have got is that he is now sleeping. I kept him awake for around a hour while the confusion went away but he's just so tired so I am letting him sleep...should I be letting him sleep??

Submitted by Arwen on

Hi Arwen,

It can be really upsetting to see someone you love having a seizure, but it sounds like you did all the right things. It’s fine to let him sleep, in fact it’s really common for people to be really tired after a seizure and need to sleep for several hours. 

I’m not sure from your message if the seizures are a new thing for your husband. If they are, and he’s not already seen a doctor about them it’s important for him to see his GP. If the GP suspects he might have epilepsy they can refer him to a specialist for treatment.

I hope this helps and that your husband is recovering well. 

Grace

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Hi, can you help or advise. I suffered from epilepsy as a teenager, which over a ten year period had around 6 episodes.

That was over 40 years ago! Now, I've been on medication all this time, no doctor has ever suggested having a ECG to just see if I can reduce or stop the drugs, and knowing how much it's costing the NHS, do you think I should request having above? I welcome your comments.
Regards
David

Submitted by David on

Hi David

If you have not had a seizure for 40 years there are 2 possibilities. One is that the epilepsy medicine is controlling your seizures. The other is that you have grown out of your epilepsy.

Here is our information about stopping your epilepsy medicine. As you can see the most important information is that you don’t make any changes to your epilepsy medicine without consulting a doctor first.

A neurologist should be able to give you some idea of how likely it is that you have grown out of your epilepsy. Some doctors ask for an EEG if they think this would be useful. It wouldn’t always be.

So yes I do think it is a conversation worth having. You  may need to ask your GP for a referral to a neurologist for this.

Regards

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

If you haven’t had an eeg in 40 years you can say you are long overdue just to document what changes occurred. No matter how minor those changes are, ethically you have every right to know changes that occurred over such a long time span. You can also say that you would like to establish record every few years that can be compared in the future. My situation was similar because my epilepsy was so mild they never thought any test was needed, it seemed like a waste of time to the doctor. I argued I should take one every few years just to measure the trends in change.

Submitted by Steve on

Hello. Can a person develop epilepsy in later life - I am 52 and had my first seizure two days ago (I did have a small one, nearly 20 years ago, but was told that was to do with virtual delivery of my daughter?). On that occassion I was taken to hospital by ambulance, as I was two days ago. The recent visit will be generating a Clinic visit to London for an EEG. I have not been diagnosed with epilepsy, but does two in 20 years, mean I have epilepsy now? If unlikely, any ideas as what could bring on a seizure suddenly (last time I was pregnant) this time I was tired but out shopping! Thank you.

Submitted by Jane Port on

Hi Jane

It is quite common for someone to develop epilepsy in later life. Epilepsy is defined as more than one seizure. But they are likely to look at your situation anew as there has been such a long time since your last seizure.

As I said at the beginning it is quite common to start epilepsy in later life. Your neurologist is likely to want you to have an EEG and possibly an MRI. This will help them with adiagnosis. And to discover whether there is any obvious reason why you have had the seizure.

There are some fairly common possible seizure triggers. Hormonal changes are in there, which may help explain your seizure during pregnancy. Depending on your particular circumstances it may be that you are once more experiencing hormonal changes with the menopausal process. Tiredness is also on the list. But no one has yet said they thought shopping was!

I hope this is useful. But 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 rich on

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