What not to do when witnessing an epileptic seizure

Do you know what to do – and what not to do – when someone has an epileptic seizure?

19 January 2015
by Wendy Maritz

If a friend or family member experiences a seizure, chances are you will already know what to do to help, but in the event that it is someone you don’t know or you have not experienced it before, here’s what you should know.

For generalised tonic-clonic seizures

Previously called grand mal, this type of seizure may last for a few minutes and is characterised by staring, a stiffening of the body, jerking movements and possibly a blue colour around the mouth.


  • Move the person or pick them up, unless there is direct danger.
  • Restrict their movements or try to hold them down.
  • Put anything, for example a spoon, in their mouth.
  • Give them anything to eat or drink or any medication.


  • Stay calm and, if possible, note what time the seizure started.
  • Try to keep the person from falling by gently guiding them to the floor.
  • Cushion their head and protect their body from injury by removing any harmful objects in the vicinity.
  • Loosen any tight clothing and remove spectacles if applicable.
  • To assist with breathing, turn them onto their side.
  • Stay with the person until they have fully recovered.
  • If possible, call a friend or family member to help them, as the after effects of a seizure may include drowsiness and confusion.

For generalised absence seizures

This was previously referred to as petit mal – the individual looks blank and stares, and there may be slight twitching. This usually lasts for a few seconds. The person may be unaware that they have had a seizure, and it’s advised to reassure them, and stay with them until they have recovered.

For complex partial seizures

The person appears confused or distracted, and there may be repetitive movements, like plucking at clothes. Remove harmful objects and guide them away from any danger. Talk quietly to reassure them, and stay with them until they have recovered.

Call for medical help if:

  • The person stops breathing for more than 30 seconds.
  • The seizure lasts for more than five minutes.
  • The seizure is followed by a second seizure.
  • The person is pregnant.
  • The individual has injured themselves physically.
  • Breathing does not return to normal or sounds laboured.
  • The person can’t stand or walk properly, experiences nausea, vomiting, fever, loss of vision and/or pain after the seizure.