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Helping a Person During a Seizure

Overview

If you see someone who is having a seizure, stay calm. Although seizures seem to last a long time, they usually last less than 3 minutes.

A seizure can be scary 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 for a few seconds to a few minutes, and they may lose consciousness.

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.

Time the seizure, if you can. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes or the person seizing is pregnant (no matter how long the seizure lasts), call 911 or other emergency services immediately.

  • Protect the person from injury.
    1. Keep them from falling if you can, or try to guide the person gently to the floor.
    2. Try to move furniture or other objects that might injure the person during the seizure.
    3. Try to position the person on their side so that fluid can leak out of the mouth.
  • Do not force anything, including your fingers, into the person's mouth.
  • Do not try to hold down the person.

    This can cause injury, such as a dislocated shoulder.

  • Provide a safe area where the person can rest after the seizure.
    1. Check the person for injuries.
    2. Turn the person onto their side, if you could not do so during the seizure.
    3. Loosen tight clothing around the person's neck and waist.
    4. Do not offer anything to eat or drink until the person is fully awake and alert.
    5. Stay with the person until they are awake and familiar with the surroundings.

      Most people will be sleepy or confused after a seizure.

You may be able to provide valuable feedback to the doctor treating the person having the seizure. Try to remember:

  • How the person's body moved.
  • How long the seizure lasted.
  • How the person acted before the seizure.
  • How the person acted immediately after the seizure.
  • Whether the person suffered any injuries from the seizure.

When to get emergency help

Seizures do not always require urgent care. But call 911 or other emergency services right away if:

  • The person having a seizure stops breathing for longer than 30 seconds. After calling 911 or other emergency services, begin rescue breathing.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • The person seizing is pregnant (no matter how long the seizure lasts).
  • More than one seizure occurs within 24 hours.
  • The person having a seizure does not respond normally within 1 hour.
  • The person has new symptoms, such as trouble walking, speaking, or thinking clearly.
  • The person has a fever.
  • A seizure occurs after the person complains of a sudden, severe headache.
  • A seizure follows a head injury.
  • A person with diabetes has a seizure.
  • A seizure occurs after eating poison or breathing fumes.
  • The person complains of severe pain after waking up or develops a fever within 24 hours of the seizure.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: December 13, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Steven C. Schachter MD - Neurology