1 in 26

One in 26 could be anyone. Epilepsy strikes regardless of race, age, class, or geography.

Most first responders and EMS personnel do an outstanding job recognizing and handling people experiencing seizures. Yet people may also respond with inappropriate force to behaviors associated with seizures, interpreting undirected, involuntary, and unorganized movements as aggression. The results can be fatal for the person with epilepsy, especially when dangerous restraint practices are used.

Recognizing and Responding to Someone Having a Seizure

First Responders

Emergency medical teams and law enforcement personnel can reduce the risk of injury and a tragic outcome by remembering these key points about epilepsy:

  1. When a report comes in about someone acting strangely or creating a disturbance, always consider the possibility that a seizure is taking place or has just occurred.
  2. Check for a medical identification card or bracelet indicating that the person has epilepsy.
  1. If family members or bystanders say that the person has epilepsy, assume that the observed behavior is seizure-related.
  2. Seizure activity in the brain may affect speech, consciousness, and movement to such an extent that a person cannot respond or interact normally during the seizure or afterwards.
  3. Some types of seizures may include running, spitting, shouting, screaming, flailing movements, or abusive language. Remember that these actions are involuntary, not under conscious control.
  4. People can be confused or disoriented for some time after a seizure ends, but will gradually improve.
  5. Actions during a seizure are undirected and not under conscious control. Arrests solely on the basis of seizure activity may be discriminatory.
  6. People who are in the midst of a seizure or who have just had one should not be forcibly restrained. Restraints may lead to further injury. Also, people may misinterpret the actions of medical personnel as an attack on them. They may react to protect themselves by forcibly resisting, placing themselves and medical personnel at risk for injury.
  7. People with epilepsy who are taken into custody for any reason should continue to get their medication. Failure to take medication on time could produce fatal rebound seizures.
  8. Placing someone who is having or just had a seizure, or has just had a seizure, face down, in a choke hold and/or hog-tying them, can obstruct breathing and cause death.
  9. People with epilepsy who have a seizure while in custody should receive prompt medical attention.
  10. People with epilepsy are normal, law-abiding people with an episodic medical disability over which they have no control. They deserve to be treated with respect.

Training and Resources For Emergency Medical Services and Responders

The Epilepsy Foundation offers resources and training to help EMS better understand how to recognize and respond to someone having a seizure. This updated training, Emergency Medical Responders: From Seizure First Aid to Seizure Emergencies, aims to strengthen knowledge of EMS ability to respond to people during different types of seizures and during status epilepticus, a seizure emergency. The 2016 guidelines on treatment of convulsive status epilepticus from the American Epilepsy Society are included in this training.

The course modules include:

  • Basics of Epilepsy and Seizures
  • Types of Seizures and First Aid
  • Treating Epilepsy
  • Treating Status Epilepticus

By completing the course, participants will be able to:

  • Recognize different types of seizures.
  • Implement appropriate first aid for focal and generalized seizures.
  • Define cluster seizures and different types of status epilepticus.
  • Implement evidence-based guidelines for treatment of convulsive status epilepticus.

How can I find this program?

Questions & Answers

Who can take these courses?

The courses are intended for emergency medical service responder or EMS. Other health care providers who work with people at risk for seizure emergencies may also find the information helpful.

Are there any prerequisites to take the course?

There are no prerequisites to take the course.

How long does it take to complete the course?

The information can be presented at one time which takes about 1.25 hours to complete or may be done in smaller sessions.

What materials or equipment do I need to take the course?


  • You will be asked to complete pre and post tests when it is offered in-person.

Course Contact Information

Additional Resources on Proposed Algorithm for Convulsive Status Epilepticus


This program is made possible with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under cooperative agreement number 1U58DP0026256-02-00, CFDA 93.850. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the CDC.

Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Monday, August 6, 2018