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Epilepsy Health Center

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Helping a Person During a Seizure - Topic Overview

If you see someone who is having a seizure, stay calm. Although seizures seem to last a long time, they usually do not last more than 60 to 90 seconds. Time the seizure, if you can. If the seizure lasts longer than 3 minutes or the person seizing is pregnant (no matter how long the seizure lasts), call 911 or other emergency services immediately.

A seizure can be terrifying to watch, especially if you've never seen one before. A seizure temporarily interferes with muscle control, movement, speech, vision, or awareness. It may cause a person's entire body to shake violently for a few seconds to a few minutes, and he or she may lose consciousness.

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In someone with epilepsy, certain triggers can lead to a seizure. Identify and watch for particular behaviors, environments, or physical and emotional signs that precede attacks. It's not uncommon, for example, to feel annoyed or elated several hours prior to a grand mal seizure, and immediately before the attack. In addition, the person may become aware of a warning "aura" -- perhaps a taste or smell: This warning may allow you to lie down in time to avoid falling. In cases where the aura is a...

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Seizures can be mild to severe, and they affect people differently. Even though you may feel helpless around someone having a seizure and find it difficult to watch, there are many things you can do to help.

How to help during a seizure

  • Protect the person from injury.
    • Keep him or her from falling if you can, or try to guide the person gently to the floor.
    • Try to move furniture or other objects that might injure the person during the seizure.
    • If the person is having a seizure and is on the ground when you arrive, try to position the person on his or her side so that fluid can leak out of the mouth. But be careful not to apply too much pressure to the body.
  • Do not force anything, including your fingers, into the person's mouth. Putting something in the person's mouth may cause injuries to him or her, such as chipped teeth or a fractured jaw. You could also get bitten.
  • Do not try to hold down or move the person. This can cause injury, such as a dislocated shoulder.

How to help after a seizure

  • Check the person for injuries.
  • If you could not turn the person onto his or her side during the seizure, do so when the seizure ends and the person is more relaxed.
  • If the person is having trouble breathing, use your finger to gently clear his or her mouth of any vomit or saliva. If this does not work, call for emergency help.
  • Loosen tight clothing around the person's neck and waist.
  • Provide a safe area where the person can rest.
  • Do not offer anything to eat or drink until the person is fully awake and alert.
  • Stay with the person until he or she is awake and familiar with the surroundings. Most people will be sleepy or confused after a seizure.
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