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What should you do if you witness someone having a seizure?

Seizures are scary whether they happen to you or you're a witness to one. Knowing what to do to help someone in need during a seizure is an important and potentially life-saving skill.
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Epilepsy, or a seizure disorder, is a medical condition in which there are periods of abnormal electrical brain activity. Seizures can cause a temporary change in a person’s physical behavior or awareness. Regardless of the type of the seizure, an individual can be vulnerable to injuries. First aid for seizures aims at protecting an individual from harm.

First, identify whether there is any change in awareness. With simple partial seizures, there is no change in awareness. You may notice a slight jerking of muscles on either the left or right side of the body.

•    Stay calm and assure the person they are safe. Stay with the person until the seizure is over.

With complex partial seizures, there is a change in awareness or loss of consciousness. The person may look confused or dazed.

•    Watch the person carefully, allow him or her to wander safely and gently guide him or her away from danger.

•    Unless there is an immediate danger, do not grab or try to restrain the individual as they may lash out or react violently.

•    Remain calm and reassuring and stay with the individual until awareness returns.

•    Note the time of the seizure, how long it lasted, any precipitating factors, and how long before full consciousness returned, as this information is useful for the individual to report to his or her health care provider.

For generalized tonic-clonic seizures, a person may fall, become unconscious, shake and jerk. Here are the steps you should take:

•    Ease the person to the floor.

•    Turn the person gently onto one side. This will help the person breathe. If the individual is turning blue, reposition the head.

•    Clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp. This can prevent injury.

•    Put something soft and flat, like a folded jacket, under his or her head.

•    Remove eyeglasses.

•    Loosen ties or anything around the neck that may make it hard to breathe.

•    Time the seizure.

•    Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes ; or if the person has trouble breathing, hits their head, has a seizure while in water or they have a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease or pregnancy.

Shaila Gowda M.D., is an assistant professor at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. She is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and has specialized training in the treatment of Epilepsy. 

To schedule an appointment with her at UT Physicians at Sienna Village, call 713-486-1200.