Have you ever been present when someone close to you had a seizure? If so, how did you react? If you haven’t, would you know what to do? Most seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes and do not cause lasting harm. About 10 percent of people will experience a seizure in their lifetime. Knowing how to handle the situation could help prevent injury or save a life.

What to do if someone has a seizure

Most people think a seizure is a convulsion in which a person’s body shakes rapidly and uncontrollably. Not all seizures are like that. There are many types, with varying symptoms. First aid for a seizure is simple and can help the person remain safe until the seizure ends. If you think someone is having a seizure, use the following general guidelines:

  • Stay calm and reassure those around you. Witnessing a seizure can be very frightening.
  • Don’t move the person to another place and don’t try to keep the person from moving or shaking.
  • Don’t try to wake the person by shouting or shaking them.
  • Don’t put anything in the person’s mouth. It is not true that they could swallow their tongue. You could harm the person’s teeth or jaw.
  • Move away items that could cause injury if the person falls or bumps into them.
  • Gently turn the person on their side so any fluid in the mouth can drain out.
  • Place something soft under the individual’s head.
  • When the seizure is over, watch the person for signs of confusion. Allow them to rest or sleep, if desired.

When is a seizure a medical emergency?

Most seizures aren’t life-threatening. However, if it lasts longer than five minutes or if another seizure happens soon afterward, seek immediate medical care. Here are other reasons to visit your nearest ER or call 9-1-1:

  • The seizure lasts longer than five minutes without signs of slowing down or if a person has trouble breathing after, appears to be in pain, or recovery is unusual in some way.
  • The person cannot be awakened after the seizure activity has stopped.
  • The person became injured during the seizure.
  • The person becomes aggressive.
  • The seizure occurs in water.
  • The person has a health condition like diabetes or heart disease or is pregnant.

A sign of something worse?

Seizures are symptoms of a brain problem and occur because of sudden, abnormal electrical activity in the brain. About half of all seizures have no known cause. In other cases, seizures can be linked to infections in the brain, head trauma or other identifiable problems. Sometimes, seizures result from brain damage from other disorders like brain tumors, alcoholism or Alzheimer’s disease — anything that alters the normal workings of the brain. Strokes, heart attacks and other conditions that deprive the brain of oxygen can also cause seizures.

While any seizure is cause for concern, having a seizure does not necessarily mean a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures not caused by some known medical condition are they considered to have epilepsy.

What’s next?

Many people who have seizures lead productive and outwardly normal lives. More than 20 different medications and a variety of surgical techniques are now available to help manage seizures. If you have more questions or have experienced a seizure yourself, talk to your Southern Hills Hospital & Medical Center health care provider for more information.

Sources: CDC.gov, EpilepsyFoundation.org, NINDS.NIH.gov

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