Epilepsy comes from the ancient Greek verb “to seize possess or afflict”. The disorder is typically characterized by epileptic seizures which can vary from almost undetectable spasms to violent shaking and uncontrollable movements. The seizures tend to recur and are more common as people age. About 5-10% of all people will have an unprovoked seizure by the age of 80!

The causes of epilepsy are largely unknown, although the disorder may be a result of a brain injury, stroke, brain tumour or drug and alcohol abuse. Commonly, epileptic seizures are controlled with medication although in some instances dietary changes can be beneficial too.


Seizures can be characterized into different types: convulsive seizures can be either generalized or partial and an example of non-convulsive seizures include absence seizures (which presents as a decreased level of consciousness and only lasts for seconds).

First Aid Management:

1. Always stay with the person until the seizure is over
• Seizures can be unpredictable and it’s hard to tell how long they may last or what will occur during them. Some may start with minor symptoms, but lead to a loss of consciousness or fall. Other seizures may be brief and end in seconds.
• The person having the seizure may injure themselves and may need extra assistance from other people

2. Pay attention to the length of the seizure
• The seizure should NOT last more than 5 minutes
• Note how long it takes the person to recover and return to their usual activity
• Stay calm! Most seizures only last a few minutes. Do not panic as this may cause others to panic. Reassure the person having the seizure (this also helps to reassure yourself!)

3. Prevent injuries by moving nearby objects out of the way

4. Make the person as comfortable as possible
• Help them to sit down in a safe place
• Try and place them in the recovery position (on their side with the mouth pointing down)
• Support their head to prevent it from hitting the floor

5. Do not put anything into the person’s mouth
• It is impossible to swallow your own tongue, even when you are having a seizure
• If you put something into the mouth of the person having the seizure, they will most likely bite it. This could be disastrous if it happens to be your fingers.

6. Make sure that their breathing is okay
• It may look as if their breathing has stopped for awhile and the person may even turn blue. This is because the chest muscles tighten during a specific phase in the seizure. As this part of the seizure ends, the muscles will relax again and breathing will resume although it may be a bit ragged and uneven at first

7. Do not give the person any water, food or pills by mouth until they are fully alert
• The person may swallow incorrectly and choke

8. Be sensitive and supportive and ask others to do the same
• Seizures can be frightening for everybody and also embarrassing for the person experiencing one. Remember this when they wake up.


• A seizure lasts 5 minutes or longer.
• One seizure occurs right after another without the person regaining consciousness or coming to between seizures.
• Seizures occur closer together than usual for that person.
• Breathing becomes difficult or the person appears to be choking.
• The seizure occurs in water.
• Injury may have occurred.
• The person asks for medical help.

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter | MD
Reviewed by: Patricia O. Shafer RN MN on 2/2014

Compiled by Rowan Robinson
Manager: Agriculture and Special Project