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Seizure first aid

A woman comforts an older man as they sit on a couch

Seizures are a common medical problem. Learn how to recognize them—and how to help.

Seizures are more common than you might expect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1 out of every 10 people will have a seizure in their lifetime. If you see someone experience a seizure, knowing what to do—and what not to do—can help you keep them safe. Ultimately, you may save a life.

Recognize the signs

When people think of seizures, they often imagine a person crying out, falling, convulsing or being unaware of their surroundings. That type of seizure is known as a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, or a grand mal seizure. Other times, seizures can mean someone is confused and only partially impaired. People having seizures may need help to avoid injury.

What to do during a seizure

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, you can help someone having a seizure by remembering three key words—stay, safe, side—and following a few steps:

Stay. Wait with the person until the seizure is over and they are awake and aware. Remember to:

  • Stay calm. Talk in a soothing voice to the person during and after the seizure to help with recovery.
  • Time the seizure. If it lasts longer than five minutes, call 911.
  • Check for a medical ID.

Safe. Make sure the person is in a safe space. That could mean doing the following:

  • Move sharp objects and other dangers away.
  • Ask others to step back to give the person room.
  • If the person is awake but wandering and confused, gently guide them away from dangerous situations such as traffic, water or heights.
  • Help them sit down.

Side. If the person is not awake or aware, turn them on to their side. This makes it easier for them to breathe. Other steps to take:

  • Loosen tight clothing around the neck.
  • Put something soft under the head.

It's also important to know what not to do during a seizure. Remember:

  • Never hold the person down by force.
  • Never put any objects in the person's mouth. It is a myth that those having a seizure will swallow their tongues.
  • Don't give the person food or water until they are awake and aware.

Know when to call 911

A seizure usually does not require emergency medical help. But you should know when to make that call. If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes or repeats, call 911. You should also call for help if the seizure occurs in water or if the person:

  • Has difficulty breathing or appears to be choking.
  • Is pregnant.
  • Has diabetes or heart disease.
  • Is injured.
  • Has never had a seizure before.

Be prepared

Knowing what to do in a medical emergency can help you and the people around you stay safe. Learn more about common emergencies—and how to respond—in our Emergencies topic center.

Reviewed 10/18/2022

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