By in Health & Fitness

Are You Prepared to Help During an Epileptic Seizure?

First aid for seizures is really simple. You probably already know what to do. But if you took your first aid training some time ago, or if you never had any formal first aid training, there are a few important things you probably were never told about. And in many cases, you may have been told to do things that are now considered unsafe for the person having the seizure. Read on, to be sure you know how to help if you ever have to give first aid to a person having a convulsive seizure.

What Does an Epileptic Seizure Look Like?

There are several different types of seizures, and not all of them require first aid. In this article we will deal specifically with generalized tonic-clonic seizures. These are convulsive seizures ; you may know them by the name grand mal seizure If you are not sure if you would recognize this type of seizure in an emergency situation, you'll want to learn how to identify a tonic-clonic seizure.

First Aid for a Grand Mal Seizure

Once you recognize that a person is having a grand mal seizure, take these steps:

  1. Prevent injuries by clearing the area of any hazards like hot or sharp objects. If the person is wearing glasses, remove them and put them somewhere safe.

  2. Time the seizure until the shaking (the clonic phase) stops. If the seizure goes on for more than five minutes call for an ambulance. If another seizure starts after the first one ends, but before the person has regained normal consciousness, you should also call for an ambulance.

  3. To aid breathing once the shaking stops, try to loosen any tight clothing around the neck, and try to turn the person onto his side .

  4. Speak to the person calmly , and stay with her until she regains normal consciousness. It is normal for her to be confused or unable to speak for a while. It is also normal for her to be restless, to want to get up before she regains her strength, and even to wander. The most important thing you can do during this time is to be reassuring and to prevent her from doing anything that could injure her.

Dos and Don'ts for Seizure First Aid

  • Do look to see if the person has been hurt during the seizure. It's common for people to bite their tongues or the insides of their cheeks. It's also possible to be hurt if the person falls or knocks into something during the seizure. Do give first aid for any minor injuries. If the person is hurt badly, or if it was a first seizure, call for help. You should also call for help if the person who had the seizure is pregnant.

  • Do stay with the individual until the seizure is over. If the seizure has happened away from home, offer to call someone or get a taxi to take him home.

  • Do record the length of the seizure and any other observations you make. Often this data is helpful to the doctor, and the person will want to pass it on.

  • Don't try to put anything in the person's mouth , no matter what you may have been told. An epileptic person cannot swallow her tongue, and is much better helped if you turn her onto her side to maintain a clear airway.

  • Don't try to hold the person down or restrain him in any way during the seizure. This is not helpful, and it could result in an injury. You can't stop a seizure by retaining the person. Just try to prevent injuries by removing hazards and staying close by.

  • Don't worry if the person's lips turn blue. Her nail beds or skin may also turn blue due to a lack of oxygen. This is normal during a tonic-clonic seizure, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Never try to give mouth to mouth (artificial respiration) during the seizure. Breathing should resume on its own after the shaking stops. Call for help if it doesn't.

  • Don't worry if there is saliva or blood coming from the person's mouth during the seizure. This is also normal. It's common for the person to bite his tongue or the inside of his cheek. Once the shaking stops, place him on his side. You may want to help him wipe his face, but beware of placing anything under his face. Be careful not to block his airway.

  • Don't try to move the person during the seizure , unless there is no other way to protect her from harm. If the seizure occurs in water, try to get the person out of the water or turn him so his face will be above the water's surface. Call for help any time a seizure happens in water.

  • Don't try to give the person any food, drink, or medication during the seizure. The individual may have medicine that can be taken after a seizure, but be sure he is able to sit up and speak before giving it to him.

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Image credit: Seizure by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay ( CC0 1.0 )

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Feisty56 wrote on July 31, 2015, 5:49 PM

This is great information for everyone to know. None of us knows if we'll encounter someone at a family gathering, in a public place or even in our home who may have a convulsive seizure. It can be frightening to witness a convulsive seizure -- even as a nurse who witnessed many over the years, each time I felt that surge of uneasiness. I think it is frustrating, too, to realize there is truly little one can do except to make the area as safe as possible to prevent injury and to observe and time the seizure.

Ruby3881 wrote on July 31, 2015, 6:26 PM

I'm glad you mention that even nurses are uneasy during a seizure, Deb. I think people tend to think that nurses and doctors are well trained and will know what to do, but often they panic or do the wrong thing too. I've had hospital staff try to push me down onto the bed during a focal seizure, and later try to tell me it was a tonic-clonic (the two don't even look alike.) I've also seen videos in which 3 or 4 nurses are running around a room totally unprepared for a seizure. If someone had done that while I was having a tonic-clonic, I think I'd have called the head nurse later and asked for a different nurse....

Feisty56 wrote on July 31, 2015, 6:42 PM

That must have been an uncomfortable feeling for you -- that the nurses acted inappropriately and misidentified the type of seizure. I cared for a population of people who happened to have more epilepsy than the general population, so became very practiced at the correct actions to take. Even so, each time I experienced that momentary feeling of uneasiness.

lexiconlover wrote on July 31, 2015, 6:49 PM

I have had all the training, due to working with both children and adults who have has seizure disorders. But this is a great information article full of stuff thst everybody should know.

allen0187 wrote on July 31, 2015, 11:28 PM

This is a well-written piece. Very informative and useful. The common notion is to put a spoon inside the victim's mouth so he/she doesn't bite-off his/her tongue or hold the victim down. Kinda surprised that those 'beliefs' still exist after all these years.

shaggin83 wrote on August 28, 2015, 2:54 PM

Very good information here. The only part I really knew was that you are supposed to turn them on their side when the seizure passes although I am not sure why. I would be so terrified to watch someone have a seizure. My husband had one but I wasn't there to see it. His heart stopped for 7 minutes while they revived him. It was from withdrawl from xanax.