Do You Know What to do When a Person is Having a Seizure?

Screen shot 2013-09-25 at 3.20.20 PMBetween chemistry and English class, you’re enjoying your lunch on the quad, marveling at the spring flowers.  Across the way, you spot a classmate acting a bit odd.  You don’t know her name, but you recognize her and notice she looks a little dizzy and then right before your eyes, she falls to the ground and goes into what you think is a seizure.  You’ve seen this on TV, and the shaking and foaming at the mouth is all you know about seizures.  You freak out and don’t know what to do.

Seizures are a symptom of epilepsy, one of the most common neurological disorders.  A seizure is marked by excess electrical energy in the brain at a brief moment in time.  Anything the brain can do under normal circumstances, the brain can do during a seizure (altering one’s movement, behavior, awareness and sensation). The majority of all seizures are NOT medical emergencies.  The young student described above had a tonic-clonic seizure.  It is a very common type of a generalized seizure and is not fatal.  These seizures begin with a loss of consciousness and a fall to the ground.  Immediately the person will experience stiffening of their limbs followed by jerking of the limbs.  It can be scary to watch, but the person having the seizure feels nothing and is not in pain at all.  But for certain s/he will wake up feeling exhausted, fatigued and possibly confused.

First aid:

If someone around you is having a seizure, (and you know they have epilepsy) the best thing you can do is to make sure the person is safe.  First aid for the tonic-clonic seizure is as follows:

  • A first time seizure – always call EMS
  • Track the time
  • Turn the person to his/her side & loosen their necktie, scarf, etc
  • Stay with the person until after their seizure is over
  • Be a friend

Fast facts about seizures and epilepsy:

1 in 10 people will ever have a single seizure in their lifetime?

1 in 26 people in the US will develop epilepsy in their lifetime?

Epilepsy is not contagious.

Epilepsy is not a mental disease; it is a neurological disorder.

Be a friend

Don’t be afraid to ask the person questions about seizure triggers or first-aid options.

Treat the person the same as you would anyone else, epilepsy is just a part of their life.

Respect the person’s privacy and don’t discuss their epilepsy with others who might not know about their condition.

Have campus medical personnel or security numbers readily available.

Educate yourself

To learn more about epilepsy, or to have a free presentation on campus, contact Ayesha Akhtar, Community Education Coordinator for the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago.  Email:


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