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First aid

Focal aware seizures (also known as simple partial seizures)

A focal aware seizure could affect the person's movement, smell, taste, hearing, sight, breathing, heart-beat, digestion or any mixture of these. They may experience, for example, twitching of an arm and nausea. The person does not lose consciousness and is fully aware of, but cannot control, what is happening.


What to do

  • Stay with the person and offer reassurance until the seizure has passed
  • Sometimes a focal aware seizure can act as a warning or 'aura' that a second seizure (usually a tonic clonic or a focal seizure with impaired awareness) will soon start.
  • If this is the case, the person may need help in getting to a quiet and safe place.


Focal seizure with impaired awareness (also known as complex partial seizure)

The person may experience strange or unusual feelings, lose their sense of time and appear distant from who and what is happening around them. This type of seizure can make someone behave in an odd, random or inappropriate way, such as lip smacking, plucking at clothes, moving aimlessly or compulsively around a room. Unlike focal aware seizures, there will be some loss or alteration of consciousness.


What to do

  • Gently lead them from any source of danger
  • Do not restrain or interfere unnecessarily with the person
  • The seizure should be allowed to run its natural course
  • Speaking softly and calmly may help
  • Offer reassurance afterwards


Absence Seizures (previously known as petit mal)

Absence seizures consist of a brief loss of consciousness and are easily mistaken for daydreaming. The person (usually a child) stops what they are doing, remains motionless, blinks, and stares into space. Soon, the person will recover and may not be aware that a seizure has occurred.


What to do

  • Absence seizures are usually very brief and often pass unnoticed
  • If you witness an absence seizure stay with the person for a while to make sure they do not suffer any injury
  • Tell the person what has happened
  • If a child is in the classroom, repeat any information they have missed


Tonic clonic seizures (previously known as grand mal)

The tonic clonic seizure is the most widely recognised seizure. The person will lose consciousness and fall to the ground. The person will stiffen (the tonic phase) and then jerk (the clonic phase). Breathing may become irregular and as a result the person could turn slightly blue. The person may also make grunting noises, bite their tongue or cheek, or be incontinent. After a couple of minutes the jerking normally stops and the person will slowly regain consciousness. They may feel groggy, sleepy and confused for some time afterwards and have a headache or aching limbs. How long it takes to fully recover varies from one person to the next.


What to doEpilepsy First Aid

  •  Keep calm and note the time the seizure starts and how long it lasts
  • Clear a space around the person and prevent people from crowding round
  • Cushion the person's head with whatever is available
  • Loosen any tight clothing round the neck and gently remove glasses (if worn)
  • Watch the seizure carefully and if possible let it run its natural course
  • Turn the person onto their side (recovery position) as soon as the jerking stops
  • Be reassuring during the recovery period and tell the person about the seizure
  • Stay, if possible, until the person is no longer confused


What not to do

  • Do not try to lift or move the person while the seizure is happening unless there is an immediate danger (e.g. they are on a busy road, at the top of stairs, at the edge of water, near a fire or hot radiator)
  • Do not try to stop the jerking or restrain the person
  • Do not put anything in the person's mouth or between their teeth
  • Do not offer the person something to drink until they are fully conscious
  • Do not fuss around the person while they are recovering from the seizure


There is no need to call an ambulance unless:

  • It is the persons first seizure
  • One seizure follows another without any recovery in between
  • The convulsive or jerking part of the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or longer than is usual for the person
  • The person has been injured

For more information see our First aid guide.

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