Seizures: first aid
Seizures affect up to one in 10 people at some stage in their lifetime. There are different types and causes of seizures, and symptoms may include:
- change in awareness or behaviour;
- muscle spasms;
- convulsions; or
- loss of consciousness.
Watching someone have a seizure can be frightening. A seizure can seem to go on forever, but most seizures usually last less than 5 minutes. Stay calm and try not to panic.
How to help someone who is having a seizure
- Time how long the seizure lasts.
- If a person is having a seizure where they seem to ‘tune out’ but don’t fall to the ground or appear to lose consciousness — talk calmly and reassure them. Repeat any information they have missed during the seizure. Lead them somewhere safe, if necessary.
- If the person is having a generalized seizure — for example, falling to the ground with loss of consciousness and jerking body movements — don’t restrain them. Make sure there is nothing they can hurt themselves on, put something soft under their head and shoulders and loosen their clothing if it’s constricting their breathing. Call an ambulance if the person is unconscious and having an active seizure.
- Do NOT put anything in their mouth or force their mouth open: this may damage the area. Do NOT move them unless they are in a dangerous position.
- When the seizure is over, turn them on their side, reassure them, tell them where they are and that they have had a seizure. It is likely they will be quite drowsy and disoriented after the seizure. This may last from a few minutes to an hour or more.
- If they have vomited or are still drowsy, lay them on their side so that any fluid can easily flow out of their mouth and not obstruct breathing.
- Do NOT disturb the person if they fall asleep after a seizure, but keep checking their breathing and response.
Call an ambulance if:
- the person is having their first seizure;
- the seizure doesn’t stop within 5 minutes (or if another seizure happens soon after the first);
- the person has trouble breathing;
- the person is unconscious;
- the person has diabetes, heart disease or other major health problems;
- the person is pregnant;
- they have been injured; or
- you are in doubt for any reason.
Last Reviewed: 06/01/2016
1. Australian Resuscitation Council. Guideline 9.2.4 â€“ First aid management of a seizure (Nov 2014). http://resus.org.au/guidelines/ (accessed Nov 2015).
2. Epilepsy Australia. Seizure first aid. http://www.epilepsyaustralia.net/seizure-first-aid/ (accessed Nov 2015).
3.St John Ambulance. Epileptic seizure first aid (Sep 2014). http://stjohn.org.au/assets/uploads/fact%20sheets/english/FS_epileptic.pdf (accessed Nov 2015).
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Seizure first aid (updated 13 Oct 2015). http://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/basics/first-aid.htm (accessed Nov 2015).
Epilepsy is a condition in which the electrical and chemical activity of the brain loses its usual co-ordination for short periods of time, resulting in seizures (also called fits or convulsions).
Febrile seizures (febrile convulsions or febrile fits) are seizures associated with a fever in young children.
Amnesia means loss of memory. Transient global amnesia is a sudden temporary episode of memory loss, characterised by the person repeating questions.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that records electrical signals within the brain, and can be used to diagnose several conditions, including epilepsy.
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