First aid basics for epilepsy

  • Written by Freya Symes

Epilepsy. What do you immediately think of? Your first thought probably isn’t that it takes as many lives as breast cancer. Nor is it that the number of Americans epilepsy affects is more than multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy combined. However, these are the statistics and as with countless other medical conditions, awareness is not nearly as high on the agenda as it should be.

I am one of the 65 million worldwide who lives with epilepsy. I recently “celebrated” my 30th anniversary with this constant companion. To toast the event I decided to experiment with some new (and necessary) anti-epileptic medication — boy was I in for a treat! The side effects included partial sight, balance deterioration, severe tremors and insomnia. As a keen knitter, I was absolutely heartbroken when I had to stop knitting due to the tremors. Naturally, you can imagine my greatest annoyance was that I was left with only one and a half leg warmers complete!

On moving to Seattle, it became shockingly clear the stigma and fear that continues to surround this condition. Friends wanted to learn more but were afraid to inquire. I couldn’t stress enough to them (and everyone) how important it is to ask questions. By obtaining correct information you can ultimately save somebody’s life. Additionally, the alienation associated with epilepsy can be partially alleviated if you take the time to ask.

So, would you know what to do if you saw somebody having a seizure?

There are many myths still present and in some scenarios they have the ability to kill. Perhaps the most common is a spoon in the mouth. No, we are not a cutlery drawer and swallowing the tongue is an impossibility. DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN THE MOUTH as the teeth clench and bones can break. However, there remains the concern of choking and if you remember one action, put the person on their side so their airway is clear and call 911 if necessary.

One in 10 people have a seizure at some point in their life. It’s vital to know seizure first aid as it could be your friend or family member who’s the “one in 10,” and whose life you could potentially save.

For more essential first aid information go to
Freya Symes lives in Seattle and blogs about her experiences living with epilepsy at

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