If you see someone who is having a seizure, stay calm. Although seizures seem to last a long time, they usually do not last more than 60 to 90 seconds. 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.
A seizure can be terrifying 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 violently for a few seconds to a few minutes, and he or she 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.
How to help during a seizure
- Protect the person from injury.
- Keep him or her from falling if you can, or try to guide the person gently to the floor.
- Try to move furniture or other objects that might injure the person during the seizure.
- If the person is having a seizure and is on the ground when you arrive, try to position the person on his or her side so that fluid can leak out of the mouth. But be careful not to apply too much pressure to the person's body.
- 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.
How to help after a seizure
- Check the person for injuries.
- If you could not turn the person onto his or her side during the seizure, do so when the seizure ends and the person is more relaxed.
- If the person is having trouble breathing, use your finger to gently clear his or her mouth of any vomit or saliva. If this does not work, call for emergency help.
- Loosen tight clothing around the person's neck and waist.
- Provide a safe area where the person can rest.
- Do not offer anything to eat or drink until the person is fully awake and alert.
- Stay with the person until he or she is awake and familiar with the surroundings. Most people will be sleepy or confused after a seizure.
Things to watch for during 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 seek emergency help
Seizures do not always require urgent care. But call 911 or other emergency services immediately 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 may have entered a life-threatening state of prolonged seizure called status epilepticus.)
- 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. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or very high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can cause seizures in a person who has diabetes.
- 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.
Other Works Consulted
- Kaplan PW (2007). Seizure disorders. In NH Fiebach et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine, 7th ed., pp. 1504–1531. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of: November 20, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Steven C. Schachter MD - Neurology