If you’ve ever witnessed anyone having an epileptic seizure, then you know that it can be quite a scary sight. But in most cases, a seizure is not an emergency and will usually stop on its own.
To you, it might feel like you have to do something drastic or the person will die, but if you’re only acting out of impulse and not knowledge, you could end up putting the person’s life in more danger than what it is. Knowing how to correctly help someone can make a huge difference.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 out of 10 people may experience a seizure during his or her lifetime. This points to the fact that seizures are quite common and that not everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy.
The most basic criteria for an epilepsy diagnosis is someone having two or more unprovoked seizures that were more than 24 hours apart.
Different types of seizures
When most people think of a seizure, they picture dramatic convulsions, a loss of muscle control, and unconsciousness, but this is only one type of seizure called a generalised tonic-clonic seizure.
There are over 30 different types of seizures and they are all grouped into two main categories, namely: focal onset seizures and generalised onset seizures. The Epileptic Society describes focal onset seizures as seizures that only start in one area of the brain. With this type of seizure, someone might zone out staring at nothing and might not remember anything after the seizure stops. Focal onset seizures are usually known to be the ‘mild’ versions.
Generalised onset seizures affect many areas of the brain at the same time and the most popular of these (as we spoke about above) is the generalised tonic-closure seizure. They are often the scariest to see happening. Someone experiencing a generalised onset seizure could become completely unresponsive and collapse. The patient could become extremely rigid for a few seconds and then begin to convulse for a few minutes.
What to do
Your initial response might be to try stop the seizure by either shaking or screaming at the person, but this is not the way to go about it. The National Health Service of England says that the most important thing to do is stay calm. Here’s everything else you need to do in the moment:
- Remove any harmful objects in the vicinity.
- Gently help the person to the floor.
- Gently turn the person onto one side to aid breathing.
- Place a cushion (or a folded jacket – anything soft) under the person’s head.
- Remove spectacles.
- Loosen anything around the neck that could make breathing harder (unbuttoning the top button of a shirt, loosening a scarf, etc).
- Keep people away from the person.
- Check for a medical bracelet/jewellery that will give you more info on the person’s medical status.
- Stay with the person until they have fully recovered and speak reassuringly throughout.
- Time the seizure and immediately call for medical attention if it goes on for longer than five minutes.
What not to do
Knowing what not to do when someone is having a seizure is also a great way to make sure that the person is as far from harm as possible. Here’s what you should not be doing:
- Don’t try to stop the person’s movements or hold the person down (let the seizure take its course).
- Do not try to make the person drink or eat anything – don’t put anything in the person’s mouth.
- Don’t attempt CPR.
When to call for professional medical help
Not all seizures require medical assistance, but there are certain instances where a medical professional will need to intervene. Here are the signs that indicate when medical assistance is needed:
- The person is having a seizure for the first time.
- The seizure continues for more than five minutes.
- The person is injured during the seizure.
- You think that medical attention is needed.
Your primary responsibility as someone that’s there to help is to guide the person away from danger and to stay with them until the seizure stops and the person has recovered fully.