Seizures and Epilepsy- What You Should Do

Throughout our lives, at least 1 in ten people we know will suffer a seizure. If you were to see a loved one seize, what would you do? What should you do? In this article we are going to get a better understanding of seizures, learn what to do when someone has one, and understand when to call an ambulance.

What Is A Seizure?

In our brain, we have things called “Neurons” These are nerves that use electrical impulses to send information through the brain, and to our nervous system. Put simply, whenever we think or move, some of our 86 billion neurons activate in just the right order to make it happen!

An image showing that a seizure is a sudden uncontrolled burst of electricity in the brain.

So what happens when a person has a seizure? There is a big, sudden, uncontrolled burst of electricity. Rather than our neurons working in an orderly manner, random neurons start to turn on and off.

We could liken it to traffic lights. For an intersection to be safe, all the traffic lights have to work in a particular order. But what would happen if a set of traffic lights had a short circuit and started changing at random. Chaos would ensue!

Are all seizures epilepsy? No. Epilepsy is a condition for when a person has repeated seizures. Around half of the people who have a seizure will never have another,

What can trigger a seizure?

Many different things can trigger a seizure: medical conditions that affect the brain like blood pressure disorders or low blood sugar. The effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain. A lack of oxygen, severe trauma or even a cardiac arrest.

Some people have a form of epilepsy called photosensitivity epilepsy which is caused by flashing lights and colours. But don’t be too afraid! It’s super rare. Only 5% of people with epilepsy have this. So you don’t have to worry about the whole family seizing watching that episode of Pokemon

A Gif of the cartoon "the simpsons" where the simpsons family suffer a photosensitivity seizure.

What types of seizures are there?

This random burst of electrical activity can affect a person in many ways. Here are some of the more common types of seizures:

Tonic-Clonic Seizure:

This is probably what comes to your mind when you think of a seizure. It can be scary to see a loved one go through this. What does it look like? A person might turn in one direction, become unconscious, fall to the ground and then have their muscles stiffen and jerk. They won’t respond when spoken to and the result of all this could cause them to briefly stop breathing or lose control of the bladder and bowel. This type of seizure can last from seconds to minutes

Absence Seizure:

When a person has an absence seizure, they might look like they are staring of into the distance or daydreaming. There eyes and eyelids may turn or flutter and they suddenly become unaware and unresponsive to everything around them. These can last for 2 to 20 seconds. Afterwards the person is often unaware of what happened during the seizure.

Focal Seizures:

These are similar to absence seizures, but during them a patient can be somewhat aware of what is going on, however they are unable to speak or respond. Or they may experience sensations and changes in feelings and behaviours. Focal seizures are often a warning that a person is going to have a more serious type of seizure.

What to do

Ok, so let’s go through what to do when someone has a seizure. First of all, it’s important to stay with person and monitor the situation, don’t run off to get help and leave them alone. Note the time, or start a timer on your phone. The length of a seizure matters, but we’ll get to that later.

When a person is seizing, it’s up to you to keep them safe? What does that involve? Try to quickly remove potential hazards. For instance, if a person has a seizure at a dining table, move any knives or forks away from the person and quickly! If someone is on the floor and having a tonic-clonic seizure, try to keep their head save by putting something soft under it.

A woman places a pillow under a man's head and puts him in a recovery position to help manage his seizure.

Generally, within seconds to minutes the seizure will end. When it ends, roll the person onto their side into the recovery position. This will help drain fluid or vomit from their mouth if needed. Monitor their breathing, generally they should start breathing again very quickly. Of course if breathing doesn’t resume quickly, you’ll need to follow the DRSABCD Action plan.

Be gentle and reassuring, and care for them afterwards. Often after having a seizure a person can have a headache or feel weak and disoriented.

What You Shouldn’t Do:

One person incorrectly tries to restrain a man after he has a seizure.

Restrain the person

Why shouldn’t you do this? For one thing, it doesn’t do anything. A seizure starts in the brain. Limiting a persons movement isn’t going to stop their brain from malfunctioning. Even worse, if you restrain someone having a seizure it could lead to dislocations or broken bones, and you could potentially get injured.

Move the person

It’s best to let the seizure run its course rather than move the person. Only move someone if absolutely necessary, for instance, if they are near stairs and could fall down.

Put something in their mouth

Its a common myth that people can swallow their tongue when they have a seizure. Often people attempt to put something in the persons mouth to stop this. This is not good. First of all, a person who has a seizure can’t swallow their tongue. Second, if you stick a cloth in a persons mouth while they are having a seizure, they could injure their teeth or jaw.

Seizure Management Plans

If someone has a history of epilepsy, they may have a management plan. These are super helpful. They show what triggers a persons seizures and what warning signs a person has that a seizure is about to occur. They’ll also show what first aid a person needs, when to call an ambulance, and what emergency medication they may need.

So if someone you know has epilepsy, make sure to get up to speed with their plan!

An example of what a seizure management plan looks like and the information it includes such as emergency contacts, needed medication and so forth.

When to call an ambulance

With seizures, you won’t always need to call an ambulance. Generally they will run their course. So when might you need to call an ambulance:

An image of a stopwatch. Timing a seizure helps determine whether you call an ambulance or not.

Here’s where your timer comes in handy. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes or the patient is non-responsive for more than 5 minutes after the seizure ends its time to get advanced care in. You should also call if they have 2 seizures in quick succession.

Other situations neccesitate calling an ambulance:

If a person is injured If there seizure happens in water If there are food or fluids in the mouth If they find it hard to breathe after the seizure stops.


So to wrap up, what do we need to remember about seizures. When someone has a seizure, keep them safe, time the seizure, and get in touch with emergency seizures. If you do so, you’ll help a loved one have the best care possible!

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