Seizure First Aid: How to Respond

What do I do?

       Watching someone have a seizure can be terrifying. They can happen to anyone, at any age, any time, at any place. Would you know what to do?

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  • Airway & Breathing: If you see someone having a seizure, check their airway and breathing. Make note if they are struggling to breathe, if there is blood or drool/foam coming from the mouth, and if they are vomitting. You want to make sure they have a clear airway through this process. While you may not be a medical professional, an easy way and a huge help is to place the person on their side. This allows fluid to drain out of the mouth and keep their airway clear. Some people vomit during their seizure so it is extra important that if you have any uncertainty on what to do, place them on their side.
  • Remain with them for the entire duration: Unless you have someone else there or can get someone else there, do NOT leave them during the seizure. Some types will cause people to completely lose control of their body and consciousness. It is also important that if you saw the seizure begin that you remain or pass on information to the next person so they can get an accurate depiction of what happened.
  • Time the seizure: As soon as you notice someone is having a seizure, make note of the time and when it is over, note what time is ended. This can be very beneficial to the person and medical professionals. If a seizure lasts over 5 minutes – call an ambulance; they need medical assistance and could result in a medical emergency.
  • Prevent Injury: You want to try your best by helping the person avoid additional harm. Move hard objects out of their way, if they are not on the ground already (and depending on the type if it makes them a fall risk) – lay them down on their side or sit them down, loosen tight clothing around the neck, and cushion their head if possible. Do NOT place anything into their mouth as this will cause harm. Do NOT  restrain or hold the person down as this could also cause harm to the person or yourself.
  • Remain Calm: Easier said then done but it is important for you as a caregiver to remain calm. Take a few deep breathes for yourself and focus on getting through each second and each minute until the person comes to. You do not have to call 911 unless the seizure is over 5 minutes, the person is injured in the process, person has back-to-back seizures, not waking up or regaining consciousness after the seizure, or there is another underlying issue that requires emergency personnel.
  • Be Supportive: After a seizure a person may become embarrassed, scared, worried, anxious, distraught, confused, disoriented, tired, or emotional. It is important to listen and remain with the person until they are fully aware and feel safe. If you cannot stay with them, be sure to call someone to be with them during this time. For some types of seizures, you will have to explain everything that happened to the person since they will not remember. Remember: be patient.

Helpful Tips

  • Look for a medical alert band. Not every person will have one but this is an important device with the person’s name, condition, and medication. Some bands will also have contact information – if able, be sure to contact these people to make them aware. If someone is having a seizure and does not have an alert band – if you feel uncertain, call 911 as this may be their first seizure.
  • If this is someone’s first seizure – take them to the emergency room. There might be an underlying condition associated with it and it will give a baseline to their neurologist and physician.
  • Do NOT give the person food, water or pills (basically anything by mouth) until they are fully awake and alert and orientated. This becomes a choking hazard and sometimes can even send food and water into the lungs and cause other issues. How do you know if someone is alert and oriented?
  1. What is your name?
  2. Where are you right now?
  3. What year is it? What month is it? What day is it?
  4. Who is the current president?

     Hopefully you found this helpful and pass it on to your friends, family, and peers!

Remember; education is key.

So, what is it like?

What does it feel like?

     For a while, I thought I was the only person who was genuinely curious on what it felt like to have a seizure. My brother could not express himself and it was always a mystery to my parents and myself. Many years later here am I experiencing them for myself! Of course, there are many different types of seizures and even if two people had the same type, they may not experience them the same. Here is a little look into what I experience.


Tonic-Clonic Seizures

      My Epilepsy involves Tonic-clonic seizures. These are the types of seizures most people visualize when you first tell them you have a seizure disorder. To be proper; the tonic phase comes first which is when all the muscles stiffen and air can be pressed past the vocal chords making a moaning sound or a cry. In this phase we lose consciousness and immediately drop to the floor and bite our tongue, cheek, drool, and faces sometimes can become blue. But before this occurs, some people may experience an aura – some type of indication a seizure is coming. This could be a sound, smell, taste, feeling “strange,” headache, dizziness, and so on. Then comes the clonic phase; arms and legs begin to jerk rapidly in a rhythmic motion and here is where some of us may lose control of our bladder (or bowels) as our bodies begin to relax and consciousness returns.  On average, these seizures can last 1-3 minutes; anything over 5 minutes is considered an emergency and the person should be brought to the hospital. This is then all followed by a postictal phase which can last from 5-30 minutes on average (sometimes longer). We are tired, we are confused, and we are disoriented.

     Now here is my personal experience and how a typical seizure occurs for me. I will be completely fine all day, going about my daily routine. Suddenly, my mind stops and everything is black. If I am talking I stop mid sentence and let out a moan, if I am quiet I stare blankly. People will begin to call my name and I will not respond, nor will I remember. I then let out a scream (more like a shrill from what I have been told) and instantly fall to the ground and begin to convulse. Typically my seizures last 3-5 minutes which always ends in an ER trip. I never have lost control of my bladder or bowels, but I have bitten my tongue pretty bad and usually have blood on my face. I will slowly begin to regain consciousness and will try to make sense of what happened. I will not remember your name, but I will remember your face. Then everything gets black again. I am not seizing, I have just passed out. Sometimes I think everything is black but I am talking and responding as if I am fine. I am not fine. Do not leave me alone. I will not remember this. This happened once and I did in fact end up seizing again, which was atypical, and resulted in a medicated coma. Eventually, I truly do regain consciousness and slowly become reoriented..but I have no idea what happened before that moment, the day is wiped from my memory, and the entire week is fuzzy. My memory will still be effected over the next few days and I go into an emotional funk. Anxiety now controls my mind as I try to continue on as if nothing happened. This is my  life with Epilepsy.

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(Photo and educational credit: www.epilepsy.com)


If you have tonic-clonic seizures, leave a comment below and share your experience!