How to Respond to a Seizure

A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled burst of activity between neurons (brain cells), which causes an electrical disturbance in the brain. This can cause temporary abnormalities in behaviors, consciousness, and muscle movements, like twitching, stiffness, and limpness.

Seizures may be more common than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 out of every 10 people will have a seizure at least once during their lifetime.

Witnessing a seizure can be scary, but knowing what to do can help ease some of that anxiety. Read on for do’s and don’ts.

What should I do if someone’s having a seizure? | Do’s and don’ts

If someone around you is having a seizure, there are steps you can take to keep the person safe until help arrives or the seizure stops on its own. Here’s what to do and what to avoid.

Don’ts

  • Don’t restrain or try to hold the person down, and don’t put any objects in the person’s mouth. Both of these actions could result in injury.
  • Don’t offer the person food or drink until they’re fully alert.
  • Don’t perform CPR, such as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Do’s

  • Loosen clothing around their neck.
  • Clear the immediate area of sharp objects that could cause injury, such as glass objects and furniture.
  • Calmly ask people nearby to step back and give the person room. Reassure them not to panic.
  • Position the person to maintain an open airway and to prevent them from inhaling saliva or vomit. The optimal positions are on their side or in a semi-prone position.
  • Once the seizure is over, stay with the person. Sometimes a person may feel confused after experiencing a seizure.

Should I call an ambulance? | When to call an ambulance

According to the CDC, in most cases you don’t need to call an ambulance, especially if the person is known to have epilepsy.

However, sometimes an ambulance may be needed. Call an ambulance if:

  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • The person has trouble breathing or walking after the seizure
  • The person starts to have another seizure soon after the first
  • The person is pregnant, has diabetes, or has heart disease
  • This is the person’s first seizure
  • The person has been physically hurt during the seizure
  • The seizure happens in water

If you’re not sure the person is experiencing a seizure and are worried that something else may be wrong, that’s also a good reason to call for emergency help.    

What to do after the seizure | After the seizure

The CDC indicates that most seizures only last a few minutes. Once the seizure ends, the need for first aid is over, the person is fully awake, and an ambulance is deemed unnecessary by the above criteria, you can help by:

  • Finding the person a safe place to sit
  • Acting and speaking in a calm and comforting manner
  • Checking for emergency information on the person, such as a medical bracelet
  • Letting the person know, in simple terms, exactly what happened
  • Offering to call a friend, relative, or taxi to make sure the person gets home safely

How to prevent a seizure | Seizure prevention

Once a seizure starts, you can do little to stop it. You can, however, help keep a person having a seizure from further harm by following basic seizure first aid as outlined earlier on this page.

Takeaway | Takeaway

If you need to help someone during a seizure, you won’t be able to prevent the seizure, but there are steps you can take to keep the person safe.

By understanding what you should and shouldn’t do to help someone having a seizure, you will be prepared to react properly should the need arise.