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Seizures

5-minute read

If someone is having a seizure, prevent them from injuring themselves and stay with them until the seizure has finished. Call an ambulance if the seizure lasts for more than 5 minutes or if the person is unresponsive for more than 5 minutes afterwards.

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What is a seizure?

Seizures (also known as fits) are caused by rapid and uncoordinated electrical firing in the brain. This can cause alternating stiffening and jerking of the arms and legs, and a loss of consciousness or altered consciousness level.

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When should I call an ambulance?

Call triple zero (000) if:

  • the seizure continues for more than 5 minutes or a second seizure quickly follows
  • the patient remains unresponsive for more than 5 minutes after a seizure stops
  • the patient has been injured
  • the patient has diabetes or is pregnant
  • you know, or believe it to be the patient's first seizure

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What should I do while waiting for an ambulance?

Don’t try to restrain the person or stop the jerking. The main thing is to prevent them from injuring themselves. Put something soft under their head, remove any sharp or unstable objects from the area and stay with them.

There is no danger they will swallow their tongue. But don’t put anything in their mouth and make sure there is no fluid or vomit that could choke them.

Time the seizure and keep an eye on their breathing.

When the jerking stops, put them in the recovery position. Don’t let them have anything to eat or drink until the seizure has completely stopped.

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What are the symptoms of a seizure?

A person having a seizure may lose consciousness during the seizure, or between several seizures. Others may become very rigid and have a fixed staring expression on their face or rolling eyes.

Most seizures last for less than 2 minutes and will stop on their own, without any treatment. The person is usually unconscious for 10 to 20 seconds, and then will start having convulsions.

Other symptoms include:

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our collapse and fainting Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

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What causes seizures?

Seizures can be caused by:

  • epilepsy
  • illegal (recreational) drugs
  • alcohol
  • extremely low blood sugar
  • high fever
  • head injury
  • infection
  • brain tumours or other medical problems, including stroke

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How are seizures treated?

Recovery is different for everyone and there is usually no need for further medical assessment unless the person is injured. Some people with diagnosed medical conditions wear ‘Medic Alerts’ or special pieces of jewellery or identification that shows that they will need special medical care in an emergency.

People diagnosed with epilepsy will normally need medication to control seizures. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions and let them know if you have any side effects from the medication.

A person who has had a seizure must not drive until advised it is safe to do so by their doctor. Adults with epilepsy should have a review with their GP or specialist at least once a year. Children with epilepsy should have a review with a specialist at least once a year but more often if necessary.

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Can seizures be prevented?

Some people who have seizures may get warning signs, such as a change in body temperature, visual problems or a strange taste in their mouth for example. These signs are also called ‘auras’. If these warnings occur, try to get to a safe place or position if possible.

Sometimes, other people can tell if someone they know is about to have a seizure. They may look different, their pupils may change size or they may act out of character. Again, if this happens, try to guide the person to a safe location.

People who have seizures should take precautions when swimming, driving or bathing. They can also prevent seizures by avoiding triggers including:

  • flashing or flickering lights
  • lack of sleep
  • stress
  • alcohol
  • missing seizure medication

Important: Anyone taking prescribed medicines for seizures should always take the correct dosage and make sure they do not miss a dose.

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Complications of seizures

Most people who have a seizure don’t go on to have any more. But if you have 2 or more seizures, you may be diagnosed with epilepsy.

See a doctor if you or your child has a seizure for the first time, if there are several seizures, or if the seizures happen more often than usual.

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Last reviewed: September 2019


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