One in 10 people will experience a seizure in their lifetime, so it’s important that you understand how to properly respond if someone with you has a seizure. Although they are commonly associated with epilepsy, seizures can be caused by a number of issues, including fever, infection, lack of sleep, low blood sodium, certain medications, head trauma, stroke, a brain tumor, alcohol abuse, and the use of illegal or recreational drugs.

When most people think of seizures, they think of what is known as generalized tonic-clonic, or grand mal, seizures. These are often characterized by loss of consciousness and jerking movements of the arms and legs.

Regardless of the cause, seeing someone you care about experience a seizure can be terrifying. You may ask yourself dozens of questions within the brief duration of the seizure. “Why did this happen? Should I touch him? Should I stop her? Is he going to swallow his tongue, like they say? Should I call 911? Could she die? Is he going to further hurt himself or others?”

Having these questions is understandable, especially if the individual is experiencing a seizure for the first time. Being prepared with the answers to your questions can help you react appropriately and keep the individual safe.

Q & A: What to Do if Someone has a Seizure

A woman assists a man lying on the ground. It's important to understand what to do if someone has a seizure.

Question: How long is this going to last?

Answer: It shouldn’t last longer than 5 minutes, but will likely last only a couple minutes, if that.

Question: Should I call 911?

Answer: You can to be safe, but it’s not usually necessary. However, you SHOULD call 911 if any of the following are true:

  • The individual was injured due to the fall.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • The individual has another seizure soon after the first, which may be an indication of a dangerous condition called convulsive status epilepticus.
  • The seizure is due to a high fever.
  • The individual has difficulty waking up or breathing after the seizure.
  • The seizure occurs in water.
  • The individual is pregnant.
  • The individual has a health condition such as diabetes or heart disease.

Question: What caused this seizure?

Answer: Seizures can be caused by a number of issues, including epilepsy, fever/infection, exhaustion, low blood sodium, the use of certain prescription or recreational drugs, excessive alcohol consumption, head trauma, and the existence of a brain tumor. If emergency medical treatment was required, your doctor should be able to tell you the cause of the seizure. If immediate medical care was not required, you may wish to make an appointment with Insight’s Neurocognitive Health Services to identify any underlying issues.

Question: Is it true that you can swallow your own tongue during a seizure?

Answer: No. However, you could accidentally bite down on your tongue, causing it to bleed.

Question: Should I try to stop her convulsions?

Answer: No. Do not try to stop the movements.

Question: Should I avoid touching him during the seizure?

Answer: Yes and no. Do not try to stop him from moving or hold him down, but you can do the following:

  • Move him to his side, which will help him breathe easier.
  • Try to place a pillow or bundled jacket under his head.
  • Move any loose objects away from his reach in order to ensure he does not hurt himself or others.
  • If he was standing when the seizure began, ease him to the floor to keep him from falling.
  • Remove his eyeglasses to keep them from getting crushed and potentially causing injury.
  • Loosen or remove ties around his neck that may cause a choking hazard or make it difficult for him to breathe.

Question: Should I hold her mouth open to keep her from biting her tongue?

Answer: No, and do not place anything in the individual’s mouth. Other than helping her lie on the ground, moving her to her side, and placing a pillow under her head, you should allow the seizure to run its course.

Question: Should I give the individual mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?

Answer: No, do not attempt CPR during the seizure. If the individual does not regain consciousness afterward and you must call 911, follow the directions given to you by the first responder.

Contact Insight for More Information

Insight Neurocognitive Health Services specializes in neuropsychological assessments and treatment planning for a wide range of injuries and conditions, including traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy, cognitive changes resulting from stroke or other medical condition or treatment, seizure disorders, sport concussions, and others.

If you have or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with epilepsy or experienced a sudden seizure, schedule an appointment to speak with one of our physicians in order to learn more about the condition and further discuss treatment options.

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