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How to support someone with epilepsy and having a seizure

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There are over 600,000 people in the UK with a known diagnosis of epilepsy. That’s about 1 in 103 people.

At nearly every course I run, at least one person mentions that they know someone with epilepsy or have seen or have had to support someone having an epileptic seizure. Many of these have also said they weren’t 100% sure what to do and didn’t feel confident supporting the casualty. It is however really easy to support someone having an epileptic seizure and this months’ blog is all about what to do:

What is an epileptic seizure?

Put simply, an epileptic seizure is when a sudden burst of electrical activity temporarily affects how the brain works. There are many different types of seizures, such as a focal or absence seizure where someone might not respond to you or have any memory from the last few minutes. However, this blog is going to talk about the tonic-clonic epileptic seizure – the one most people think of and recognise when they see someone having a seizure.

What does someone having a tonic-clonic epileptic seizure look like?

There are two parts to this type of seizure; the tonic and the clonic.

  • During the Tonic section of the seizure the person having the seizure will likely lose consciousness, their body will go stiff, and they may fall to the floor.
  • During the Clonic section of the seizure the person having the seizure may lose control of your bladder or bowel, their limbs may jerk about, they may bite your tongue or the inside of your cheek, they may groan and froth at the mouth and they might have difficulty breathing.

What do you do if you see someone having an epileptic seizure?

There are some really simple steps to help someone having a tonic-clonic epileptic seizure:

  • Protect them from injury. Don’t move them unless they are in danger i.e. by or in water, but instead move any obstacles away from them if you can.
  • Cushion their head. They will be jerking around with a lot of force so cushioning their head with your hands or a cushion will help prevent any head injuries.
  • Time how long the jerking lasts. You don’t need a stop watch for this but a rough estimation is good.
  • When the jerking has finished they are likely to be exhausted so place them in the recovery position to help their breathing.

Make sure you:

  • Don’t restrain their movements – the seizure just has to happen and should be over in a matter of minutes.
  • Don’t put anything in their mouth. This is something people were told a long time ago but it doesn’t help. When someone is having a seizure their jaw is very strong and they could break the item and it becomes a choking hazard.

When do I call an ambulance?

You don’t always need to call 999 for someone having a seizure. People who are epileptic live with this condition on a day-to-day basis and don’t want to see a medic if they don’t need to. However, there are times when you should call for help:

  • If this is the first time the person has had an epileptic seizure
  • If the seizure lasts for longer than five (5) minutes
  • If the seizure is repeated
  • If the person having the seizure is injured during the seizure

Other things you can do to support them

  • Try to keep people away and not staring. When the casualty finishes their seizure, they may be embarrassed or confused
  • If the casualty has relieved themselves during the seizure pop a blanket over them or a coat or something similar so they are covered (same goes if it is someone wearing a skirt for example)
  • Talk to them calmly and reassuringly and help them in any way they ask you for help (if someone is epileptic, they will know what they need to do next and how they usually feel afterwards)

It is super simple to help someone who is having an epileptic seizure and hopefully this post makes you feel more confident helping someone.

I really hope these tips have give you some food for thought. If you would like more hints and tips on all things basic first aid, head over to my Instagram page: or Facebook

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