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What to Do When Someone Has a Seizure

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There is a hard-to-put-your-finger-on fear when it comes to witnessing someone experience a seizure. What should you do? How can you help? What could cause potential harm? What if it lasts a long time? If you’ve ever asked yourself any of those questions, you’re thinking about seizure first aid correctly. Let’s dig in.

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Recognizing a Seizure

Identifying a seizure is the crucial first step in providing the appropriate assistance. There are a variety of seizure types — like tonic-clonic seizure or grand mal seizure — often marked by sudden loss of consciousness, uncontrolled body movements, and altered awareness. It’s essential to remain calm (yes, it’s easier said than done!) and closely observe the person to recognize the signs of a seizure accurately. Pay attention to the duration, movements, and responsiveness to inform your next actions for their safety and well-being.

Immediate Actions During a Seizure

Ensuring the Person’s Safety

Above all, prioritize the safety of the individual experiencing a seizure. Begin by swiftly assessing the surroundings. Remove any objects that could cause harm, particularly sharp or dangerous items, from the immediate vicinity. This precautionary measure helps to minimize the risk of injury.

Next, provide a soft cushion or padding to support the person’s head. This added protection helps safeguard against potential head injuries due to involuntary movements. Utilize a pillow, jacket, or any readily available soft object to cradle their head gently.

Furthermore, carefully position the person onto their side. This position not only aids in maintaining an open airway but also helps prevent any potential choking hazards. By gently rolling them onto their side, you facilitate unobstructed breathing and reduce the risk of foreign objects obstructing their air passage.

Managing the Crowd

In a situation like this, effectively managing bystanders — when they exist — is crucial. This means providing clear directions and assigning specific roles to those present once the seizure starts. Instruct someone to call for medical assistance immediately.

Maintaining clear and ample space around the person experiencing the seizure is equally imperative. This precaution helps prevent accidental collisions or injuries during the seizure and also creates a buffer zone to ensure the safety of the individual in distress and people nearby.

Assigning specific tasks to onlookers can contribute to maintaining order and focus. For example, one person may call for medical assistance, while another could be responsible for ensuring the immediate area remains free of obstructions. By delegating specific responsibilities, you effectively coordinate efforts and enhance the overall response. This structured approach can make a significant difference in providing the necessary support and care for the individual experiencing the seizure.

What Not to Do

Some actions can do more harm than good during a seizure. Avoid attempts to restrain the person or stop the seizure, and do not put anything in their mouth. It’s a common misconception that doing so can prevent harm – in reality, it can lead to injuries such as damage to teeth or the jaw.

Timing and Monitoring the Seizure

Timing and monitoring the seizure are imperative for ensuring the individual’s well-being and providing essential information to medical professionals. Here’s why it matters:

Timing the duration: Start by noting when the seizure begins. A seizure’s duration can vary, and it’s important to time it accurately. Knowing how long it lasts is vital information for health care providers, especially for seizures lasting longer than five minutes.

Specific details: During the seizure, observe any specific information that might be relevant. This could include the type of movements or behavior exhibited, any changes in the person’s coloring or breathing pattern, or any repetitive motions. These details can be valuable for diagnosis and tailoring treatment.

Providing Post-Seizure Support

Assisting in Recovery

Following the conclusion of the seizure, the person may experience disorientation and fatigue. Here’s how you can help:

Offer gentle reassurance: Calm reassurance can go a long way, especially until they are fully awake. Let them know they are safe, and that you’re there to assist them. Avoid overwhelming them with information or questions, as they may still be regaining their bearings.

Create a calm environment: Dim lighting and a serene atmosphere can aid their recovery. Minimize any unnecessary noise or disruptions.

Ensure comfort: Check if the person is comfortable. Gently adjust their position if needed, using a soft object as support. Ensure they have access to water and can rest comfortably. Avoid sudden movements or actions that might startle or distress them.

Remain present: Stay with the person until they have fully recovered or until medical professionals arrive. In addition to your presence providing a sense of security, it also allows you to continue monitoring their condition and respond promptly if further assistance is required.

Offering Information

Once the person has stabilized, it’s vital to communicate relevant details about the seizure to them. Here’s how you can effectively convey this information:

Describe the sequence of events: Start by providing a clear account of what occurred during the seizure. Outline the initial signs, the progression of the seizure, and how it concluded. Include any specific movements, behaviors, or changes in consciousness that you observed.

Note the duration: Mention how long the seizure lasted. This information is significant for medical professionals in assessing the severity of the episode and determining the most appropriate course of action.

Highlight any unusual aspects: If there were any unusual or atypical elements to the seizure, mention them. This could involve unique movements, behaviors, or sensations experienced by the person. Such details can offer valuable insights into the nature of the seizure.

Ask for their input: Make space for the person to share any sensations or experiences they remember from the seizure. This firsthand account can provide additional context and assist in the overall evaluation.

Encourage questions: A supportive and open environment fosters trust and ensures that all pertinent information is shared.

When to Call for Emergency Assistance

While not all seizures are emergencies, there are specific circumstances that warrant prompt action. Here are the key indicators that necessitate calling for emergency help:

Prolonged seizure duration: If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, it is considered a prolonged seizure. Prolonged seizures are a cause for concern as they can lead to complications. Seeking immediate medical intervention is vital in such cases to prevent potential harm.

Difficulty breathing after the seizure: After a seizure concludes, it’s essential to monitor the person’s breathing. If they experience difficulty breathing or if their breathing remains labored or irregular, it is a sign that immediate medical attention is required. Prompt intervention can address any respiratory issues effectively.

Multiple seizures without regaining consciousness: Experiencing multiple seizures in succession without regaining consciousness in between is a serious situation. This is known as status epilepticus and is a medical emergency. Immediate intervention is crucial to halt the continuous seizure activity and prevent further complications.

Injuries or medical concerns: If the person sustains injuries during the seizure, especially any head injury, or if any pre-existing medical conditions may exacerbate the situation, it is prudent to seek emergency medical assistance promptly.

First-time seizure:

If this is the person’s first-ever seizure, it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention. A first seizure can be indicative of an underlying medical condition that requires prompt evaluation and treatment. Remember, swift intervention can make a significant difference in their overall outcome and recovery.

Getty image by Chainarong Prasertthai

Originally published: November 1, 2023
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