If you require emergency medical attention, please call 911 to access your local emergency services.

Safety Information

Safety and First Aid Information for Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders

If you or a loved one has epilepsy, it's important to take safety measures to minimize the potential for injury and maximize your or their ability to perform the same activities as other people.

Remember these general safety tips and guidelines:

  • Family, friends and selected coworkers should know about the possibility of a seizure and what to do if a seizure occurs. See first aid for seizures, below.
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that lists important medical information.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Do not participate in activities like cooking, bathing or lighting fires if you are home alone.
  • Do not drive unless you have a physician's statement that you can safely operate an automobile.
  • Be aware of job-related safety concerns and take the necessary precautions.
  • Always take your medications as prescribed by your physician.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use.
  • Make sure you get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
  • Try to reduce stress as much as possible.

Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP)

Patients with uncontrolled epilepsy have a 24 times higher risk of dying unexpectedly than the general population. The mechanisms for sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) are unclear, but it often occurs at night and is associated with convulsive seizures.

The only way to reliably prevent SUDEP is to be free of seizures. This emphasizes the need to be very diligent about taking medications as prescribed. For patients with intractable seizures, which cannot be controlled with medication, the risk of SUDEP is one reason to consider surgical treatment options for epilepsy.

First aid for seizures

The basic rule of seizure first aid is to protect the person from injury. If you witness someone having a seizure:

  • Remain calm
  • Clear the area of anything that could harm or injure the person, like sharp objects
  • Loosen any tight clothing around the person’s neck to prevent choking
  • Put something flat and soft under the person’s head to prevent injury
  • Gently turn the person onto his or her side to help keep the airway clear
  • Time how long the seizure lasts
  • Stay with the person until the seizure ends


  • Try to restrain or hold the person down or try to stop his or her movements
  • Try to force the mouth open (People cannot swallow their tongues during a seizure. Efforts to hold the tongue down can injure the teeth or jaw.)
  • Perform CPR except in the unlikely event that the person stops breathing after the seizure has ended

Keep in mind that most seizures last less than 5 minutes. After the seizure has ended, the person may be confused and sleepy for about 30 minutes.

Call 911 if:

  • The person has never had a seizure before
  • The seizure lasts more than five minutes
  • Multiple seizures occur one after the other
  • An injury occurred during the seizure
  • The person is pregnant
  • The seizure occurred in the water
  • The person does not gradually recover consciousness after the motor movements (convulsions) have stopped

Check for a medical alerts. A person with epilepsy should wear a medical-alert bracelet or necklace that gives the person's diagnosis, medications, telephone numbers of the physician and the person to call in case of an emergency. This can help avoid unnecessary emergency room visits if a seizure occurs in a public place.

MedicAlert is a nonprofit organization that provides bracelets, necklaces and cards. For more information, call 888.633.4298.

Legal Information

By clicking on these websites, you are leaving the Northwestern Medicine website. These websites are independent resources. Northwestern Medicine does not operate or control the content of these websites. By visiting these websites, you agree to this third party’s terms of use for their website.