seizure first aid

Courtesy of the CEA, 2019    

A special thank you to the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance for sharing their up to date and correct epilepsy information

E.g. Tonic-Clonic, Febrile

Don’t panic! You can help.
Convulsive seizures look scary. And no matter how many times you see one, they will always be startling. But whoever you are, you can do lots to help. Just follow these simple steps:

Time it. Longer than 3 minutes, call an ambulance.
Most seizures are usually over in two or three minutes, but if it does go on longer than 5 minutes, get an ambulance right away. When you see a seizure, check the time, because to the person watching, it might seem like a seizure goes on for ages when it’s really only been a couple of minutes.

Explain what is going on. Ask to be given space.
When a seizure happens, people may not know what is going on and may crowd around to watch. Explain to people that the person is having a seizure and that it will be over soon. Ask everyone to stay back and allow some space so that when the person having the seizure
awakens, they won’t feel overwhelmed by strangers staring down from all around.

Cushion head and neck with something soft.
Place something soft under a person’s head and neck during a convulsive seizure to prevent head injury. You could use anything that you might have on hand, such as a pillow or rolled up jacket.

Roll the person to their side to prevent choking.
Sometimes during a seizure a person may throw up or drool a lot. To prevent choking, simply roll the person on their side. That way, anything in the mouth will come out instead of blocking off the throat and airway.

Clear the area of dangers.
When a person has a convulsive seizure, their body, arms and legs will be shaking. To prevent them from hitting something nearby, move things out of the way that may pose a danger.

Do NOT put anything in the mouth.
There is an old myth that you should put something in a person’s mouth during a seizure to keep them from swallowing their tongue. This is NOT TRUE and can be dangerous. It can accidentally cause the person to gag, break teeth or bite their tongue or cheeks.

Do NOT restrain.
You cannot stop a seizure by holding or shaking a person. If you try to restrain the person, their whole body will still be jerking and shaking. As a result, you could injure them, or you could accidentally get hit.

Speak gently. Be kind during and after the seizure.
After a seizure the person will be groggy and disoriented. By talking kindly throughout the seizure and after, not only will you offer comfort to the person, but you will calm yourself and others around you at the same time.


E.g. Absence, Simple or Complex Partial

Don’t panic! You can help.
No matter if you are young or old, you can help someone having a seizure. The first aid is simple, and in most cases involves making sure the person is safe and comfortable.

Time it. Longer than 3 minutes, call an ambulance.
This is the general rule of thumb for seizures. The longer a seizure goes on, the greater the chance it may need medical intervention to stop it. Check out the section on calling an ambulance to see when you should call for help.

Explain what is happening.
Non-convulsive seizures can be sneaky and may look very unusual or frightening. If you spot someone having a non-convulsive seizure, let others know, so that they will understand and not be scared or confused.

Clear the area of dangers.
Move things that the person having the seizure may hit or stumble over that could be dangerous. Remember, the person having this type of seizure will not have any real awareness of their surroundings, so they need your help.

Gently guide and protect from hazards.
Using a light touch, guide the person carefully away from other dangers like stairs or a busy street. Make note of how the seizure looks, they may want to know after it’s over.

Do NOT restrain.
People who have seizures are normally not aggressive in any way. But if restrained or held, they may forcefully try to get away because they have no understanding of what is happening or why. So, for everyone’s safety, never ever restrain a person having a seizure.

Speak gently. Be kind during and after the seizure.
Seizures are no fun to have, and no one would ever choose them. But you can make things much better and far more tolerable just by talking nicely and reassuring the person that everything is ok and that you are there to help.

If a non-convulsive seizure becomes convulsive…
Follow the guidelines for convulsive seizures. Sometimes non-convulsive seizures can progress into convulsive seizures. This may happen very quickly. If it does happen, just switch to the first aid for the convulsive type of seizures as outlined in the other section.


People with epilepsy can still enjoy an active lifestyle.

Most sports and recreational activities are both safe and beneficial for people with epilepsy, promoting fitness and stress reduction, as well as maintaining bone mass. Here are some safety tips:

  • Wear the appropriate safety gear, such as helmets, flotation devices, elbow and kneepads.
  • Exercise on soft surfaces like grass or mats whenever possible.
  • Stay cool when exercising by taking frequent breaks.
  • Swimming can be safe and enjoyable, but always with a buddy who is an experienced swimmer. Inform the lifeguard about your seizures, and consider wearing an easily identifiable bathing cap or flotation device.
  • Consider avoiding or modifying sports with increased risk of a head injury. For example, touch football is safer than tackle (for anybody).
  • When bicycling or rollerblading, wear a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. If the helmet liner is damaged in an accident the entire helmet must be replaced.
  • Avoid busy roads and solo trips.
  • Avoid boating, snowmobiling or skiing alone. Consider the use of a safety strap and hook when riding the ski lift.
  • Skydiving, deep-sea diving, or hang-gliding are not recommended.
  • Before taking up sports that would put you in danger if you were suddenly unaware of what you were doing, review the risks and benefits.

Thanks to the information provided by the Epilepsy Foundation of America in its brochure Safety and Seizures and the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance website;