First Aid for Tonic-Clonic Seizures

31 January 2011
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Many people feel helpless and unsure of what to do when responding to a tonic-clonic seizure. These are convulsive seizures involving loss of consciousness, muscle stiffening, the person falling to the ground followed by jerking movements. This seizure is potentially life threatening if the person continues in the seizure state too long.

What you should DO:

  • Note the time the seizure started. If the seizure continues for longer than five minutes, call an ambulance
  • Protect the person from injury and remove any harmful objects that may be nearby
  • Cushion the person's head
  • Check for epilepsy ID (bracelet/ necklace)
  • Gently place the person in the recovery position when the seizure has finished. There is a small risk of post-seizure vomiting so the person's head should be turned to ensure that any vomit will drain out of the mouth without being inhaled
  • Stay with them until recovery is complete (5-20 minutes)
  • Calmly reassure the person
  • If the person should suffer any injury as a result of the seizure, normal first aid measures should be implemented.

 What you should NOT do:

  • Do not panic or walk away
  • Do not hold down or restrain the person's movements
  • Do not put anything in the person's mouth - it is a myth that they can swallow their tongue
  • Do not try to move the person unless they are in danger
  • Do not give the person anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered

For more information on seizure first aid in specific circumstances, e.g. in a wheelchair, in water or on buses/ aeroplanes, click here.

When to call an ambulance

First Aid for Complex Partial seizures

Get the Seizure first aid poster

Watch the seizure first aid video

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