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Epilepsy Seizure: What to Do in an Emergency

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Types of Seizures, Degrees of Danger continued...

If you witness someone with epilepsy having a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, remember that it's probably not an emergency, although it may look like one. Keep these first-aid tips in mind:

  • Keep other people out of the way. 
  • Clear hard or sharp objects away from around the person. 
  • Don't try to hold the person down, or stop the movements. 
  • Place the person on his or her side, to help keep the airway clear. 
  • Look at your watch at the start of the seizure, to time its length. 
  • Don't put anything in the person's mouth. Contrary to a popular misconception, it is not possible for a person to swallow his tongue during a seizure. However, placing an object in the mouth of a person who is having a seizure may cause the patient harm or injury. The patient may experience a dental injury or you may harm yourself by having your finger bit.

Milder seizures -- like brief periods of staring or shaking of the arms or legs -- also are not an emergency. You should, however, gently guide a person  away from any surrounding danger. They may be in a state similar to sleepwalking, and need protection from threats around them, like traffic or stairs.

Seizures and the Emergency Room

Seizures that involve any of these conditions should prompt an emergency room visit or a call to 911:

  • Diabetes
  • Brain infections
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Pregnancy
  • Poisoning
  • Low blood sugar
  • High fever
  • Head injury

You should also call 911 if:

  • Seizures of any kind go on longer than five minutes
  • Multiple seizures occur in a short period of time
  • The person stops breathing
  • A seizure occurred in water
  • The person hit his or her head during a seizure and becomes difficult to arouse, is vomiting, or complains of blurry vision
  • It is the first time a seizure occurred

Many people living with epilepsy, and their loved ones, are experienced at handling uncomplicated seizures with first-aid at home. If something seems wrong or unsafe, you should seek emergency care. And always remember to record your seizures -- the date, time, and any circumstances that seem important -- and bring the record to your next doctor's visit.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on July 20, 2014
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