Epileptic Seizures

Epileptic Seizures

A seizure occurs when an abnormal electrical discharge occurs in the brain, disturbing its normal function. Seizures are typically associated with epilepsy; however, as many as one in twenty people may have a seizure at some point during their life.



The symptoms depend on the type of seizure that the person is having.

Convulsive seizures

These may cause:

  • The person to cry out, lose consciousness and fall to the ground
  • Jerking of the arms and legs
  • The lips to turn blue
  • The person to froth at the mouth and if the tongue has been bitten, blood may trickle from the mouth
  • The person may lose control of their bladder

Non-convulsive seizures

Absence seizures:

  • Are relatively rare and usually occur in children
  • Can occur suddenly and provoke a trance-like state
  • Affected children will stare blankly into space and fail to respond to anyone talking to them

Partial seizures:

  • May or may not cause unconsciousness
  • Can cause movement of the limbs, head or neck
  • The person may become disorientated, pluck at clothing, smack their lips or wander about aimlessly

Most seizures do not last longer than a few minutes. If a seizure is prolonged or if there is a series of seizures over a period of time during which the person does not regain consciousness, this is referred to as status epilepticus. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

What to do

Non-convulsive seizures

  • If the person remains conscious, simply wait for it to pass. Reassure the person.
  • If the person is wandering around aimlessly, you may need to guide them away from any potential danger.
  • Stay with the person until they have come around properly and can get home safely.

Convulsive seizure

You cannot prevent a person from having a seizure and there is no need to move the person unless they have fallen in a dangerous place (e.g., on a road, at the top of stairs).

However, there are a few things you can do to protect the person from injury:

  • Clear a space around the person, moving away objects that could be harmful.
  • Put something soft under their head to cushion it and prevent them from hitting it.
  • Loosen any tight neckwear and remove any spectacles and high heel shoes if worn.
  • Never put anything in their mouth.
  • Do not attempt to restrain the convulsions allow the seizure to take its course.

After the seizure:

Do not try to wake the person let them come to in their own time.

  • Stay with them explain what has happened and reassure them.
  • If the person is struggling for breath, put your fingers under the angles of their jaw and lift it forward. Gently check their mouth for any obstructions e.g., dentures of tongue blocking the back of their throat. Roll the person onto their side and tilt the chin upwards.
  • If the person stops breathing, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation may be required, but this does not occur very often.

You only need to call an ambulance if:

  • The seizure lasts longer than five minutes
  • The seizure lasts longer than is usual for the person involved
  • The person has a series of seizures without regaining consciousness in between
  • The person has injured themselves during the seizure.

There are several other conditions that can sometimes cause seizures. These require immediate medical attention and include:

  • Diabetes
  • Poisoning
  • Brain infections
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Heat exhaustion, high fever
  • Pregnancy
  • Head injury


Find out more about epilepsy in the irishhealth.com Epilepsy Clinic