What does a seizure look like, and what to do.

Signals of seizures include:

  • A blank stare.
  • A period of distorted sensation during which the person is unable to respond.
  • Uncontrolled muscular contractions, called convulsions, which last several minutes.

A person with epilepsy may experience something called an aura before the seizure occurs. An aura is an unusual sensation or feeling, such as a visual hallucination; strange sound, taste or smell; or an urgent need to get to safety. If the person recognizes the aura, he or she may have time to tell bystanders and sit down before the seizure occurs. Febrile seizures may have some or all of the following signals:

  • Sudden rise in body temperature
  • Change in consciousness
  • Rhythmic jerking of the head and limbs
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Crying out
  • Becoming rigid
  • Holding breath
  • Upward rolling of the eyes Although it may be frightening to see someone unexpectedly having a seizure, you should remember that most seizures last only for a few minutes and the person usually recovers without problems.

When to Call 9-1-1

Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number if:

  • The seizure lasts more than 5 minutes.
  • The person has multiple seizures with no signs of slowing down.
  • The person appears to be injured or fails to regain consciousness after the seizure.
  • The cause of the seizure is unknown.
  • The person is pregnant.
  • The person has diabetes.
  • The person is a young child or an infant and experienced a febrile seizure brought on by a high fever.
  • The seizure takes place in water.
  • The person is elderly and could have suffered a stroke.
  • This is the person’s first seizure.
  • If the person is known to have occasional seizures, you may not have to call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number. He or she usually will recover from a seizure in a few minutes.

What to Do Until Help Arrives

Although it may be frightening to watch, you can easily help to care for a person having a seizure. Remember that he or she cannot control the seizure. Do not try to stop the seizure. General principles of managing a seizure are to prevent injury, protect the person’s airway and make sure that the airway is open after the seizure has ended.

  • Do not hold or restrain the person.
  • Do not put anything in the person’s mouth or between the teeth.

People having seizures rarely bite their tongues or cheeks with enough force to cause significant bleeding; however, some blood may be present.

  • Make sure that the environment is as safe as possible to prevent injury to the person who is having a seizure.
  • Remove any nearby furniture or other objects that may injure the person.
  • Give care to a person who has had a seizure the same way you would for an unconscious person.
  • When the seizure is over, make sure that the person’s airway is open. Usually, the person will begin to breathe normally.
  • If there is fluid in the person’s mouth, such as saliva, blood or vomit, roll him or her on one side so that the fluid drains from the mouth.
  • If the child or infant has a febrile seizure, it is important to immediately cool the body by giving a sponge bath with lukewarm water.
  • The person may be drowsy and disoriented or unresponsive for a period of time.
  • Check to see if he or she was injured during the seizure.

Be comforting and reassuring. If the seizure occurred in public, the person may be embarrassed and self-conscious. Ask bystanders not to crowd around the person. He or she may be tired and want to rest. Stay on the scene with the person until he or she is fully conscious and aware of the surroundings. For more information on epilepsy, visit the Epilepsy Foundation at www.epilepsyfoundation.org.