Fitting, seizures and convulsions are not uncommon medical emergencies. They can be extremely distressing to witness and people are often unsure as to how to help.


Seizures can occur after a head injury or anything that directly affects the brain, such as a tumour or epilepsy.

Other common triggers include:

  • Alcohol – commonly associated with the onset of seizures particularly after a heavy drinking spell as the alcohol levels fall.
  • Lack of sleep – and sleeping in late can trigger a seizure if there is already an underlying condition.
  • Emotional stress – can also induce seizures if there is an underlying predisposition.
  • Exposure to flickering light – contrary to common opinion this is a rare trigger
  • Fever (in infants and small children – extremely common, 1 in 20 under 5s will convulse if their temperature rises)
  • Drugs – commonly induce seizures

Febrile convulsions are incredibly common in small children and are fits or seizures triggered by a rise in their core body temperature if they are ill. Witnessing these fits can be petrifying. Keep your child’s temperature down if they are unwell. If it is higher than normal, take off any excess clothes they are wearing, give plenty to drink, open a window (without allowing them to get too cold) and give Paediatric Paracetamol (Calpol) or Paediatric Ibuprofen to reduce their temperature.

How to help if someone is fitting:

Seizures can present in many different ways:

A seizure/fit or convulsion may cause someone to thrash around violently as with a Grand Mal, tonic/clonic type of fit (this may start with a screaming sound as the muscle spasm forces air out of their lungs), or they could have an absence seizure where they are rigid and staring, or they may go rigid and experience incontrollable spasms – they may or may not be aware of what is happening.

A fit is not generally life-threatening – however if the seizure continues for more than 3 minutes or they have repeated seizures and then it is vital to call an ambulance immediately.

If someone starts fitting:

  • Move things away from them to avoid injury, protect their head, but do not pick them up or restrain them.
  • They may bite their lips or tongue during the fit, but there is nothing you can do to help this whilst they are in the midst of a seizure. Do not let anyone put anything in their mouth.
  • Look at your watch and time the fit. If the fit lasts for more than 3 minutes, phone the emergency services immediately.

The fit can last from seconds to minutes, and they may go blue and could stop breathing for up to a minute. Once the fitting stops, they may be unconscious and breathing and should be rolled into the recovery position on their side, to keep their airway open. They may be confused and fractious following the convulsion; be calm and reassuring, they will return to their normal selves within a few minutes. After this they are likely to be very sleepy. Following a first fit they should be admitted to hospital for observation and tests.

First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

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