It’s understandable to be alarmed if you see someone having what appears to be a seizure. But if you recognize the signs, you can help. And in some cases save them from injury — or depending on the situation — save their life.
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A seizure is a period of altered brain function caused by abnormal or excessive electrical discharges from brain cells. They can be mild or severe. They affect up to 1% of the U.S. population.
“There are many conditions that cause seizures, like epilepsy, or a fever in infants,” according to epilepsy specialist Deepak Lachhwani, MD. “But regardless of the reason for a seizure, helping someone while they’re having one can prevent them from hurting themselves until the seizure completes its course.”
Below are the common signs. You’ll learn what first aid steps are required, and what you shouldn’t do.
Common signs or symptoms of seizures
Some seizures have symptoms that include convulsions. But a person doesn’t have to have convulsions to be having a seizure — they can happen without convulsions, too.
Here are the symptoms of seizures that indicate someone may be having one:
- Jerking or twitching.
- Picking at self.
- Smacking lips.
According to Dr. Lachhwani, other medical conditions such as fainting or staring can easily be mistaken for a seizure. Careful attention to the presence of other symptoms noted above may help to distinguish a seizure from simple fainting episode or staring episode.
How to help someone having a seizure with convulsions
In grand mal seizures, a person loses consciousness, their muscles go rigid and their whole body convulses or shakes uncontrollably.
Here’s what to do to help:
LOOK to see if they have a bracelet that says ‘Epilepsy’ or ‘Seizure Disorders.’
PLACE the person on their side, away from dangerous objects, water, machinery or fire.
DON’T PUT anything in their mouth.
REMOVE eyeglasses or objects from around their neck.
TIME the seizure.
CALL 911 if the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or results in injury.
STAY with them until help arrives.
What to do for non-convulsive seizures
Not all seizures are accompanied by convulsions. If you see symptoms other than convulsions, the person may still need your help. Here’s how:
WATCH them carefully to recognize the seizure.
SPEAK quietly and calmly to the person.
EXPLAIN to others what is happening.
GUIDE them gently to a safe area away from dangerous objects, water, machinery or fire.
DON’T RESTRAIN them to stop any movement.
STAY with them until they regain complete consciousness.
“Anything you can do to help them as they transition out of their seizure could be invaluable,” Dr. Lachhwani says. “It’s a bit scary, but just being there can go a long way.”