Seizures can be a scary experience for both the person having a seizure and the people witnessing it. Seizures occur when there are abnormal electrical occurrences in the brain and are generally associated with epilepsy, although 1 in 100 Americans will experience a seizure at some point in their life.
A seizure may range from someone temporarily losing consciousness and staring off into space to his/her entire body violently shaking. There is nothing that you can do to stop a seizure, but you can help to keep the person safe until their seizure is over.
What to watch for
When you are watching someone have a seizure, it can feel like it is lasting for a long time. Most seizures only last 60–90 seconds. If someone’s seizure continues for more than three minutes, seek emergency medical help. It may be a good idea to start a timer or check your watch at the beginning of a seizure so that you know how much time has passed and can let the person know how long their seizure was when they recover.
In addition to monitoring the length of the seizure, be sure to take a mental note of how the person’s body is moving, how he/she was acting right before the seizure, how the person acted immediately following the seizure, and if there were any injuries.
Protect the person from injury
A person having a seizure can easily injure himself/herself. To help protect the person, very gently guide them to the floor. If you are unable to do this, be sure to remove objects the person could injure themselves on, like pieces of furniture. Should the person fall to the ground or you are able to guide them to the ground, try to very carefully position the person on their side without using too much pressure.
Do not attempt to restrain the person in any way. This could only cause further injury to the person having a seizure or you. A folk tale claims that you are supposed to put your hands in a seizing person’s mouth to keep them from swallowing their tongue; however, this is false and will only lead to further injury to you or the person having a seizure.
After the seizure
Loosen any clothing around the neck, check that the person is breathing properly and check that they have not sustained any injuries. If the person is not breathing or is injured, call for emergency medical help. Make sure that they are in a safe place and assure the person that you will stay with them until they are comfortable with their surroundings or have received proper medical attention.
If you have epilepsy
If you have epilepsy, always carry medical identification or wear a medical ID bracelet that will notify others of your condition. Alert your family, friends, and coworkers of your epilepsy and educate them on how to help you if you have a seizure. Do not stop taking your medication or change your dosage without consulting your doctor, and stay aware of how other drugs and medications (even over-the-counter) will interact with your anticonvulsant drugs.
The most important thing to remember if someone is having a seizure is to remain calm. Do your best to assist the person and protect them from injury and be prepared to call for emergency help if necessary.