First aid for seizures facts

  • Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces chronic seizures.
  • Causes of epilepsy include brain diseases, illness, genetic disorders, or injury, but the cause of many seizure disorders is unknown.
  • Common symptoms of seizures include unconsciousness, muscle contractions and convulsions, clouded awareness, weakness, loss of sensation, strange sensation in the stomach, lip smacking, fidgeting, confusion, and sleepiness after the seizure.
  • There are many different types of seizures (e.g. grand mal, febrile), from a first aid point of view the underlying type of seizure or trigger has limited importance.
  • First aid for seizures is aimed at keeping the person safe until the seizure stops on its own. Stay calm, loosen anything around the person's neck, do not restrain them or put anything in their mouth, clear the area around them, and stay with them after the seizure stops.
  • Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, the person has another seizure, does not wake up, or has another medical condition.
  • Some seizures can be prevented by taking prescribed seizure medication regularly, checking for drug interactions, avoiding alcohol, and avoiding seizure triggers.

What is the definition of an epileptic seizure?

Epilepsy, or seizure disorder, is a medical condition that produces seizures. A seizure usually involves convulsions and sometimes leads to loss of consciousness.

What causes an epileptic seizure?

Seizures occur due to a malfunction of the brain's electrical system. Some seizures are caused by brain diseases, tumors, genetic conditions, or other illnesses or disorders that can be diagnosed (symptomatic seizures). When the cause for the seizures is unknown, they are referred to as idiopathic or cryptogenic seizures.

Seizure causes are also sub-classified into acute (an active cause, such as an active brain disease) or remote (caused by a previous event, such as injury).

Some people with seizure disorders have triggers that cause their seizures. Common seizure triggers include foods or medications, hormones, stress, lack of sleep, or sensitivity to light.

What are the symptoms of an epileptic seizure?

Generalized seizure symptoms include unconsciousness, muscle contractions and convulsions (which may appear as very dramatic jerking movements), tongue or lip biting, incontinence, and clouded awareness. There may be weakness or loss of sensation. These symptoms may be brief or last a longer period of time.

Some seizures only cause minor or mild symptoms and can be localized to a specific area of the body. These are called partial seizures. Symptoms of a partial seizure may include an aura (a warning symptom, often a strange sensation in the stomach), lip smacking, fidgeting, lack of awareness of surroundings, confusion, and sleepiness after the seizure. These symptoms typically last 30 seconds to 2 minutes.


Epilepsy: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment See Slideshow

What first aid should be done for an epileptic seizure?

First aid for a seizure is aimed at keeping the person safe until the seizure stops on its own. Most seizures last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

  1. Stay calm and reassure bystanders.
  2. Loosen anything around the person's neck (clothing, ties, jewelry, etc.) that may impede breathing.
  3. Do not restrain the person – this may result in injury.
  4. Do not put anything into the person's mouth, and do not try to hold the tongue or force the mouth open. This may also cause injury.
  5. Clear the area around the person and remove any objects that could injure them (glasses, furniture, etc.).
  6. Put something flat and soft under their head.
  7. After the seizure, lay the person on their side to facilitate breathing and keep the airway open.
  8. Do not leave a person alone after a seizure – they may be disoriented or confused.
  9. If the person is known to have epilepsy it may not be necessary to call 911. However, call 911 if:
    • the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes,
    • another seizure begins soon after the first one ends,
    • the person does not awaken after movements have stopped,
    • the person has another medical condition (such as heart disease),
    • or you think anything else might be wrong.

What can be done to prevent an epileptic seizure?

There may be some ways to prevent seizures in some people. Sometimes, there is no way to prevent seizures and a person may have a seizure even if they follow all of the doctor's recommendations.

  • Anticonvulsant medication helps manage seizures in many patients. Take all prescribed medication regularly. Do not stop taking medications or change the dose without consulting a doctor.
  • Avoid alcohol as it may interact with anticonvulsant medication, making it less effective.
  • Consult a doctor before taking any other medications, including over-the-counter drugs, or supplements as there may be drug interactions.

Avoid any known seizure triggers such as foods or medications, hormones, stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, or sensitivity to light.

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Medically reviewed by Joseph Carcione, DO; American board of Psychiatry and Neurology


"First Aid." Epilepsy Foundation.

Schachter, Steven C., M.D. "Overview of the management of epilepsy in adults." UpToDate. Updated Mar. 9, 2016.