What do seizures look like

Tonic-Clonic Seizures

A convulsive or tonic-clonic seizure starts when someone loses consciousness, stiffens unexpectedly, falls to the ground and starts jerking. How to help:

  • Stay calm

  • Time the seizure

  • Remove any hard objects from the area

  • Place something soft under the head

  • Loosen any tight clothing

  • Do not restrain the person's movements

  • Do not force anything into the mouth

  • Roll the person onto their side to allow excess saliva to drain from the mouth

  • Offer support and reassurance after the seizure

  • Allow the person to rest until they have fully recovered


Call an ambulance if:

  • The seizure lasts more than 5 minutes

  • The person fails to regain consciousness

  • One seizure follows another

  • The person has been injured

  • The seizure occurred in water

  • It is the person's first seizure

  • The person has diabetes or is pregnant

  • Non-convulsive seizures

  • Not all seizures are convulsive. Non-convulsive seizures include complex partial seizures and absence seizures.


Complex Partial seizures

In complex partial seizures the person may appear unresponsive and confused. Automatic movements such as smacking of the lips, wandering, or fumbling movements of the hand may be present. He or she may display inappropriate behaviour that may be mistaken for alcohol or drug intoxication. How to help:

Stay with the person

Talk calmly and in a reassuring manner to the person

Protect the person from harm

Do not restrain the person

Help reorientate after the seizure has finished


Call an ambulance if:

The seizure lasts more than 10 minutes

The person has been injured


Absence seizures

In absence seizures the person loses awareness for a brief period. The person stares vacantly, the eyes may drift upwards and flicker. It may be mistaken for daydreaming. How to help:

Reassure the person and repeat any information that they may have missed.


Seizure Triggers

For some people, certain factors may increase the likelihood of a seizure. Some of the more common triggers are listed here, but individuals differ considerably in factors that induce seizures.

Missed medication

Lack of sleep

Infections and illness

Diet (missing meals, taking a lot of caffeine)




For women - hormonal changes (for example, related to menstrual cycle)

Severe changes in temperature

Photosensitivity - about 2% of people with epilepsy are sensitive to sensory stimuli such as strobe lights, flickering televisions or flickering sunlight.


Strategies to adopt:

Talking with your doctor.

Ask questions about your epilepsy, your medication, and the impact on your lifestyle, work/study and driving.

Take your medication as prescribed. Do not stop your anti-convulsant medication unless it is with the supervision of your doctor.

Talk to your pharmacist about medication - for example, will a new medication (prescription or over-the-counter) interact with your anti-convulsant medication.

If particular factors trigger your seizures, avoid them.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Maintain your self-esteem.

Learn about epilepsy. Talk to others about epilepsy.

Contact your state epilepsy association.


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