Single seizures generally do not cause damage or injury to the brain. However, some people may get injured as a result of a seizure or complications from a seizure or its aftereffects. 

We don’t know exactly how often injuries occur after seizures since many aren’t reported or recorded as a seizure-related injury. Luckily, they don’t occur all the time and many people rarely hurt themselves during a seizure. However, it happens often enough for people to be aware of the risks and know what to do.

Types of Injuries and Other Illnesses

  • The most common types of injuries are cuts, bruises and burns.
  • More serious injuries could include:
    • Head trauma - hitting the head and getting a concussion or a more serious head injury with bleeding into the brain
    • Broken bones 
    • Choking during or after a seizure
    • Drowning (if a seizure occurs in water)
    • Complications from other medical problems a person may have. For example complications from diabetes or a seizure during pregnancy.
    • Problems that develop hours to a few days after a seizure. For example:
      • Pneumonia-  if food or liquid got into the lungs during a seizure, a fever and symptoms of pneumonia may occur hours or up to a few days later, with fever, chest pain and difficulty breathing.
      • Head injury - symptoms may not be seen right away or they may be mistaken for aftereffects of a seizure.

What To Do

Many injuries don't require urgent medical help, but others can be very serious when they occur.

  • Minor cuts, bruises or burns can often be treated with first aid at home. Call your primary care or seek other medical help for problems that do not respond to simple first aid, persistent bleeding, pain, swelling or other concerns. 
  • Do not try to treat serious cuts, burns, swelling or bruising by yourself. 
  • Seek medical attention for head trauma that's been observed or suspected, especially if headaches, upset stomach, weakness, or other symptoms are present. 
  • Any problem that affects a person's breathing requires emergency help. If a person is choking, call 911 (emergency help) and follow steps to clear the person's airway (if you know how to do this).
  • If a seizure occurs in water, get the person out of the water as soon as possible, call 911, and follow steps to clear the person's airway (if known).  
  • Broken bones should always be evaluated and treated urgently. Some fractures may require urgent care or surgery, while others may not. 
  • If problems or new symptoms start hours or days after a seizure, don't ignore them. For example if you have a fever, pain, shortness of breath, cough, headache, or other changes, call your primary health care provider or seek medical care!

How can I prepare for or prevent injuries and illesses?

  • Ask your health care team what the impact of your type of seizures may be. 
  • Know what to look for and how to prevent injury or secondary illness.
  • Know when to seek medical care after a seizure - when is an emergency room visit needed and when should you be seen by your primary care or epilepsy providers. 
  • Teach others what to do to prevent injury and illnesses that can occur after a seizure. 
  • Include this information in your Seizure Response Plan
Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN | Joseph I. Sirven, MD on 8/2013
Reviewed by: Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 2/2014
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