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When is a seizure an emergency?

Epilepsy seizure: What to do in an emergency

Although seeing a person having a seizure can be frightening, an ambulance does not need to be called every time a person has a seizure.

Tongue biting, thrashing limbs, eyes rolled in the back of the head are symptoms of a convulsive seizure. Most stop on their own, with no permanent effects.

There is little you can do to stop a seizure once it's started. But by learning a few tips, you can protect a person with epilepsy from harm during seizures. It's worth knowing some basic first aid for seizures -- and when it's time to head for Accident and Emergency.

The seizure may affect a person you know who has epilepsy, and they may have shared an emergency plan with you in advance. Often the seizure may affect someone you don’t know. Check to see if they are wearing a medical alert bracelet or medical emergency card.

Basic steps are needed to help make the person comfortable and to help stop them from hurting themselves:

  • Move the person away from anything that could cause injury, such as roads or sources of heat
  • If they are on the floor, cushion their head
  • Loosen any tight clothing around the neck to make breathing easier
  • After convulsions stop, turn the person to lie on their side - into the recovery position
  • Stay with the person to reassure them and talk calmly until they have recovered. They may be confused at first.
  • Make a note of the start and finish time of the seizure. This may help paramedics or doctors.
  • Although there's a risk of a person biting their tongue during a seizure, don’t put anything in their mouth.

When to call 999 for a seizure

Seizures that involve any of these conditions should prompt a visit to your nearest A&E department or a 999 call:

  • Diabetes
  • Brain infections
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Pregnancy
  • Poisoning
  • Low blood sugar
  • High temperature
  • Head injury

You should also call 999 if:

  • It is the person's first seizure
  • Seizures of any kind that go on longer than five minutes
  • Multiple seizures occur in a short period of time
  • The person stops breathing
  • A seizure occurred in water
  • The person hit his or her head during a seizure and becomes difficult to rouse, is  vomiting, or complains of blurry vision

Many people living with epilepsy, and their loved ones, are experienced at handling uncomplicated seizures with first aid at home. If something seems wrong or unsafe, you should seek emergency care. And always remember to record your seizures -- the date, time, and any circumstances that seem important -- and bring the record to your next doctor's appointment.

What should I do if a child has a seizure?

Different types of seizures may require different responses. See below for a breakdown of the most common types of seizures and what to do for the child in each case.

WebMD Medical Reference

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