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Managing Epilepsy – How to provide Seizure First Aid

workplace seizure epilepsy

Epilepsy is a common condition in our community and can develop at any age regardless of gender or ethnic group. Currently, research suggests that 3-3.5% of the Australian population will develop epilepsy at some stage in their lives. Considering a significant amount of people are living with the disorder throughout the community, it’s most important to understand how to provide seizure first aid, should you find yourself in a situation.

Epilepsy explained

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that takes the form of recurring convulsive or non-convulsive seizures that affects people of all ages. Epilepsy is often misunderstood as a mental illness, however, it’s most important to note that the disorder is a condition of the brain, not a mental illness.

The facts and stats   

  • More than 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy and 80% of them live in developing countries
  • 3% to 3.5% of Australians will experience epilepsy at some point in their lives
  • 250,000 Australians are currently living with epilepsy
  • 10% of the population are at risk of experiencing a seizure during their lifetime
  • Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that affects people of all ages
  • Epilepsy is not a mental illness

Busting the myths

Myth:    Epilepsy is rare
Fact:      Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in the world today

Myth:    Epilepsy is a mental illness
Fact:      While the risk of mental illness is higher in people with epilepsy, it is not a form of mental illness

Myth:    You should put something in a person’s mouth to stop them from swallowing their tongue during a seizure
Fact:      It is physically impossible to swallow your tongue. However, when the tongue is completely relaxed and if the person is lying on their back, it can fall to the back of the throat, blocking the airway. Therefore, nothing should ever be placed in the person’s mouth, instead they should be rolled on their side into the recovery position once the seizure has stopped. It’s also important to note that the strength of the jaw throughout a seizure is incredibly strong, in fact so much so that when people have attempted to touch a person’s mouth during a seizure, fingers have been bitten off.

Myth:    You should restrain someone having a seizure
Fact:      A seizure will run its course and restraint will not stop it or slow it down. Restraining someone during a seizure is likely to agitate or harm them and possibly even yourself.

Myth:    You can make a person ‘snap’ out of a seizure
Fact:      There is nothing you can do to stop a seizure. The best thing to do is stay with the person and talk to them calmly. Complete your DRSABCD if needed once the seizure has stopped naturally.

Myth:    People with Epilepsy lose consciousness and have convulsions
Fact:      Seizures can present as a brief loss of awareness, or confusion and disorientation, to major convulsions. Not all seizures involve jerking and convulsions, in fact, the majority don’t.

Signs and symptoms

A patient having an epileptic seizure may:

  • Suddenly call out
  • Fall to the ground, sometimes resulting in injury
  • Stiffen and lie rigid for a few seconds
  • Have rhythmic jerking muscular movements
  • Look very pale and have blue lips
  • Have excessive saliva coming out of their mouth
  • Sometimes bite the tongue or cheek resulting in blood in the saliva
  • Lose control of their bladder or bowel
  • Be extremely tired, confused or agitated afterwards

What to do – How to provide Seizure First Aid

The DRSABCD Action Plan is the first step when providing first aid. Use this to assess the immediate situation.

During the seizure

  1. Protect the patient from injury by removing any objects around them that could cause injury.
  2. Protect the patient’s head by placing something soft under their head if they are lying on a hard surface (i.e. Bathroom tiles).
  3. Time the seizure.

After the seizure

  1. Follow your DRSAB and place the patient in the recovery position as soon as jerking stops, or immediately if they have vomited or have food or fluid in their mouth.
  2. Manage any injuries resulting from the seizure.
  3. DO NOT disturb the patient if they fall asleep but continue to check their breathing.
  4. Calmly talk to the patient until they regain consciousness. Let them know where they are, that they are safe and that you will stay with them while they recover.
  5. Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance 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

What not to do

During a seizure it’s important not to do the following:

  • DO NOT try to restrain the person or stop the jerking
  • DO NOT put anything in their mouth
  • DO NOT move the person unless they are in danger

Epilepsy is a common condition amongst Australians, so it’s important that we understand what to do if we are ever near someone experiencing an epileptic episode. Learn more about epilepsy and how to provide seizure first aid by completing a St John Provide First Aid Course.


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