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Warning Signs of a Seizure: How to Help

Contributor Ali Raja, MD
4 minute read
Woman lying on the ground with another person holding her head off the ground and holding her hand.

Seizures are not uncommon and can be caused by immediate injury or trauma, illness, infection, or many chronic health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 people has a seizure at some point in their lifetime. If you encounter someone who is experiencing a seizure, don’t panic; there are things you can do to help.

Ali S. Raja, MD, a Mass General Brigham emergency medicine doctor, describes the signs of a seizure and shares the quick steps that you can follow if you see someone having one.

Signs of a seizure

During a seizure, uncontrolled electrical impulses in the brain send faulty signals that can cause:

  • Delays in responsiveness

  • Temporary paralysis

  • Unconsciousness

  • Spasms throughout part or all of the body

  • General confusion, anxiety, or emotional distress

Step 1: Seizure first aid and injury prevention

If someone is having a seizure, here’s what you can do to prevent injury and keep them safe:


  • Carefully ease them onto the floor or ground.

  • Lay them on their side.

  • Remove any clothing or jewelry that may injure them or restrict their breathing.

  • Clear the area of people and things.

  • Find a something soft to put under their head.

Do not:

  • Hold the person down.

  • Put anything in their mouth.

  • Attempt mouth-to-mouth breaths.

  • Give them water or food unless they are fully alert.

Step 2: Active monitoring

Watch anyone who is having a seizure closely. After a seizure, they may be disoriented, not feel well, or retain some level of confusion that could affect their ability to function normally.

If someone is having a seizure:

  • Stay with them until the seizure is over.

  • Safely help them sit up.

  • Explain what has happened (if they’re unaware).

  • Try to calm or soothe them if they’re distressed or confused.

  • Look for a medical ID bracelet, card, or other information they may have to help to identify an existing health condition.

  • Once they are feeling back to normal, call a friend or family member of theirs, or a taxi or rideshare service, to pick them up and make sure they get home safely.

Step 3: How long do seizures last? When to call 9-1-1

Not all seizures are emergencies, and most seizures last only about 30 seconds to 2 minutes. However, some seizures require emergency care, especially if the person has not had one before.

Always call 9-1-1 if the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or the person:

  • Is injured

  • Is in water

  • Is pregnant or has other known health conditions

  • Has trouble breathing or waking up

  • Has never had a seizure before

  • Has another seizure soon after the first

Health conditions that may cause seizures

Other causes

  • Reactions to or withdrawal from certain medications or illegal drugs

  • Reactions to or withdrawal from alcohol

  • Rapidly flashing lights (photosensitive seizures)

Keep calm and you can help someone who is having a seizure.

Encountering someone who is having a seizure can be a scary and uncertain situation. But if you follow the right steps, you can make sure that everyone stays safe and that you keep the person having the seizure from injuring themselves. Let them know that it will be okay when the seizure has passed.

Ali Raja, MD


Emergency Medicine Doctor