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what to do if someone is having a tonic clonic epileptic seizure

What should you do if someone is having an epileptic seizure? This is intended as a quick first aid guide when someone is having a convulsive (tonic clonic or clonic) seizure.

For more detail on dealing with other types of epileptic seizures please see first aid for all seizure types.

Although it can be frightening to see, this type of seizure is not usually a medical emergency. Usually, once the convulsions (shaking and jerking) have stopped, the person recovers and their breathing goes back to normal.

How do you stop a seizure?

You cannot stop a person's seizure, the seizure will usually stop naturally on its own. Sometimes someone may need you to give them emergency medication, although ensure that you have received the appropriate training to be able to administer this medication. If a convulsive (shaking) seizure doesn't stop after 5 minutes, call for an ambulance (dial 999).

Don't hold the person down whilst they are convulsing.

What should you do when someone is having a seizure?

When someone is having a seizure, the first fundamental thing to do is stay calm. Then proceed to follow the ten first aid steps for when someone is having a convulsive epileptic seizure below.

See our video below on how to put someone into the recovery position after they have stopped shaking and jerking (convulsing).

The 10 first aid steps 

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Look around - is the person in a dangerous place?  If not, don't move them. Move objects like furniture away from them.
  3. Note the time the seizure starts.
  4. Stay with them. If they don't collapse but seem blank or confused, gently guide them away from any danger. Speak quietly and calmly.
  5. Cushion their head with something soft if they have collapsed to the ground.
  6. Don't hold them down.
  7. Don't put anything in their mouth.
  8. Check the time again. If a convulsive (shaking) seizure doesn't stop after 5 minutes, call for an ambulance (dial 999).
  9. After the seizure has stopped, put them into the recovery position and check that their breathing is returning to normal.  Gently check their mouth to see that nothing is blocking their airway such as food or false teeth. If their breathing sounds difficult after the seizure has stopped, call for an ambulance.
  10. Stay with them until they are fully recovered.

What should you do if the seizure doesn't stop?

If the shaking and jerking doesn't stop after 5 minutes, call for an ambulance (dial 999).

If their breathing isn't back to normal after the seizure has stopped, and you have checked their airways, call for an ambulance.

If they are injured, or they have another seizure without recovering fully from the first seizure, call for an ambulance.

What causes a person to have seizures for the first time?

For information on what causes epileptic seizures, please see causes of epilepsy.

How to put someone into the recovery position

This video demonstrates how to put someone into the recovery position after a tonic clonic seizure.

Further information

Taken from our First aid leaflet. Order this leaflet from our online shop as part of our 'first five free' offer.

Smart phone with epilepsy tool kit app

Epilepsy app

Our free smartphone app contains first aid information including when to dial 999 and how to put someone in the recovery position. It is available on both iPhone and Android phones. 

Woman cushioning a man's head

First aid leaflet

You can also download our first aid leaflet as a PDF to save or print.