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What to Do When Someone Is Having a Seizure

seizure-mall-outside-walkingby John Torres, M.D.

QUESTION: I saw someone at the mall having a seizure, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there. How could I have helped?

ANSWER: When you witness a seizure, trying to figure out how to help can get a little scary. But there are plenty of things you can do.

Up to 10 percent of Americans will have a seizure at some time or another. Granted, there are many types of seizures, including those that manifest as a loss of consciousness instead of convulsions. Nonetheless, chances are pretty good that you’ll witness a convulsing kind at some point. Here are four steps to dealing with this situation effectively.newsletter-graphic

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  1. Stay calm. This is your main task. It’s not as easy as it might sound, but staying calm makes assessing the situation and taking appropriate action much easier.
  2. Protect the person having the seizure. Don’t try to restrain him or stop him from seizing. That doesn’t work, and you might end up getting hurt yourself. Instead, concentrate on clearing the area near the person so he won’t injure his arms or legs as he’s moving about. And try to protect his head as best you can. Using a folded jacket, soft blanket or pillow to support the head can help keep it from banging off the floor or a nearby wall. If you can (again, not fighting the person), turn him on his side in case he vomits so he doesn’t inhale the contents.
  3. Gather information. Although it’s tough to think of during all this, try to time how long this seizure lasts. Also, look for a medical identification bracelet, or ask people who know this person if he’s had a seizure before. If you haven't determined that he has, or if the seizure lasts over five minutes, call 911.
  4. After the seizure ends, stay at the person’s side, calmly reminding him that everything is OK. And feel good about yourself and how you were able to help out.
Contrary to popular advice, don’t try to shove anything into the person’s mouth. He won’t swallow his tongue, and since a seizing person's jaw is usually clenched, all you’ll end up doing is damaging his teeth.

Board-certified in emergency medicine, JOHN TORRES, M.D., is an attending physician at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colo., and medical anchor for KDVR-TV (Fox), in Denver Colo.

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Last updated and/or approved: March 2012.
Original article appeared in May/June 2008 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

Comments (2)add comment
written by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. , April 16, 2012

So true, and thanks for the reminder. Just remove any objects that might hurt the person while they are having a seizure. Let the seizure play out. The only reason to get involve is, if after the seizure, the person is unresponsive, lying on his/her back, and seem to be have a great deal of difficulty breathing. If that's the case, slowly and gently turn them on their side.
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written by Sarah , April 09, 2012

Can I reiterate one of the points, namely:
Do NOT put anything in the person’s mouth or try to stop the seizing.

I was epileptic and it is amazing how many people think that you are supposed to grab hold of the person's tongue to stop them from swallowing it. PLEASE DON'T

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