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What to Do When You See a Seizure

What to Do When You See a Seizure

What do actor Danny Glover, President Theodore Roosevelt and singer Neil Young have in common? All of them have had epilepsy at one point in their lives, in which disturbances in the brain’s electrical activity leads to recurring seizures.  

An estimated 10 percent of Americans have a seizure at some point in their lifetime. Would you know what to do if you saw someone having a seizure?

Sometimes the only symptoms are that the person suddenly has a blank look, accompanied by facial twitching. You should calmly guide the person to a safe, quiet place. If he or she is agitated, speak to them calmly. Call 911.

Some seizures are more active: A person having what’s called a generalized seizure may cry out, fall, jerk and become unaware of the surroundings. Some forms may interfere with regular breathing. The person may suddenly collapse. Incontinence can happen. Here’s what to do:

  • Turn the person on his or her side to help breathing. Loosen anything around the neck.
  • Put something soft under the person’s head.
  • Remove glasses and any other nearby objects.
  • Call 911 and seek medical help.
  • Do NOT put your fingers—or anything else—in the person’s mouth. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t swallow your tongue.
  • Do NOT try to restrain the person.

There are also non-epileptic seizures that can happen when a drop in blood pressure, an irregular heart beat or very low blood sugar causes sudden changes in blood flow, glucose and oxygen supply to the brain. Whatever the event, call 911 immediately.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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