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