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What do you do if someone has a seizure?

Written By: Melissa McDonald, UT Physicians | Updated: November 3, 2020
seizure first aid

Seizure first aid can look a little different depending on the type of seizure a person is experiencing.

Epilepsy, or a seizure disorder, is a medical condition in which there are periods of abnormal electrical brain activity. Seizures can cause a temporary change in a person’s physical behavior or awareness. Regardless of the type of the seizure, an individual can be vulnerable to injuries. Administering proper first aid during an episode can help protect an individual from harm. Learn more about the different types of seizures and what to do in each situation.

Simple partial seizures

First, identify whether there is any change in awareness. With simple partial seizures, there is no change in awareness. You may notice a slight jerking of muscles on either the left or right side of the body.

  • Stay calm and assure the person they are safe. Stay with the person until the seizure is over.

Complex partial seizures

With complex partial seizures, there is a change in awareness or loss of consciousness. The person may look confused or dazed.

  • Watch the person carefully, allow him or her to wander safely and gently guide him or her away from danger.
  • Unless there is an immediate danger, do not grab or try to restrain the individual as they may lash out or react violently.
  • Remain calm and reassuring and stay with the individual until awareness returns.
  • Note the time of the seizure, how long it lasted, any precipitating factors, and how long before full consciousness returned, as this information is useful for the individual to report to his or her health care provider.

Generalized tonic-clonic seizures

For generalized tonic-clonic seizures, a person may fall, become unconscious, shake and jerk. Here are the steps you should take:

  • Ease the person to the floor.
  • Turn the person gently onto one side. This will help the person breathe. If the individual is turning blue, reposition the head.
  • Clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp. This can prevent injury.
  • Put something soft and flat, like a folded jacket, under his or her head.
  • Remove eyeglasses.
  • Loosen ties or anything around the neck that may make it hard to breathe.
  • Time the seizure.
  • Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes ; or if the person has trouble breathing, hits their head, has a seizure while in water or they have a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease or pregnancy.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.