Witnessing a Seizure: Do’s and Don’ts

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By Dr. Zulfikar Bux, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Witnessing someone have a seizure may not be as uncommon as you think. One in ten persons will have a seizure in their lifetime. Odds are we may be or become a witness to someone seizing at some point in our lives. Would you know what to do if you saw someone seizing?

Seizures, better known by some as “fits”, is an abnormal electrical discharge in our brain which causes our body to have atypical physical displays. There are different types of seizures which causes persons to have different forms of physical displays during their seizure attack. Some may simply lose focus and have a constant gaze while others may have aggressive uncontrolled body movements. Noticing any one of these episodes can easily overwhelm you and create panic. Performing some simple actions and avoiding unwarranted ones may help to save the life of someone who is seizing.

Stay Calm

Your first act when witnessing a seizure should be to stay calm. This will enable you to think and act in a more rational manner. Although seizures seem to last a long time, they may only last from a few seconds to 90 seconds. Those that go beyond will have to be controlled by medical professionals.

Protect the Person from Injury

Keep him/her from falling if you can, try to gently guide them to the floor. Try to move furniture or other objects that may injure the person during the seizure.

Position the Patient

If possible, try to lay the person on their side so that fluids can leak out of their mouth. Persons tend to produce lots of saliva or even vomit during seizures. These can choke them if they are positioned incorrectly.

Do Not Put Anything in the Mouth

There is a common myth of putting objects in people’s mouth to prevent them from biting their tongue during a seizure. This is a dangerous practice and can even choke the patient thereby causing more harm. Do not attempt to even stick your fingers in someone’s mouth while they are seizing.

Avoid Trying to Hold Down the Person While They Are Seizing

It’s important to understand that a seizing person does not have control of their actions and they are moving their body with tremendous force. Attempting to hold them down may cause injury to you or them.

What to do After the Seizure has Ended 

After an episode of seizure, the patient will usually be drowsy and may even be sleeping. They will need support during this time since they are still at risk of having another seizure or choking.

The following actions will be of benefit to the patient after their seizure:

  • Check the person for injuries.
  •  If you could not have turned the person to their side during the seizure, do so now.
  • If the person is having trouble breathing, tilt their head upwards. If they still cannot breathe after this, then ensure their mouth is not blocked with saliva, vomit or broken teeth. A quick finger sweep in their mouth may help remove the blockage during this time.
  •  Loosen tight clothing around the person’s neck and waist.
  • Do not offer anything to eat or drink unless the person is fully awake.
  • Seek medical attention if warranted.

During a seizure, the patient does not have a choice over his/her actions.  Being a witness, you will have a choice over your actions: remaining calm and following the above plan may be your best bet.


Article Categories:
Columns · Health · Issue 19 · Publication

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