British Red Cross Training partners with Epilepsy Action for Purple Day 

First Aider Helping Someone Suffering Epilepsey
Red Cross Training
Publish Date:
25 Apr 2024
Reading Time:
5 mins

In support of Purple Day on 26 March, Alice Squires, training product manager at Red Cross Training, and Simon Privett, learning and training lead at Epilepsy Action, have answered some of the most common questions around epilepsy. Around 630,000 people in the UK have epilepsy, that’s around 1 in every 100. Although many people may be unfamiliar with the condition and unsure how to help, following Alice and Simon’s simple steps will give you the confidence to help if someone has a seizure.


What is epilepsy?

Alice: "Epilepsy is a medical condition affecting the brain. It could be due to a variety of causes and can lead to a range of effects. There are lots of different forms of epilepsy and the effects and treatments vary."

Simon: "Epilepsy can cause repeated seizures and can start at any age. For example, epilepsy can be caused by brain damage, the way the brain developed in the womb or changes in a person’s genes. In more than one third of all people with epilepsy, doctors don’t know the cause."


What is an epileptic seizure?

Alice: "A seizure is caused by a disturbance in the electrical activity in the brain. This can cause involuntary contractions of the person’s muscles and they may become unresponsive, or their level of response could be impaired."

Simon: “An epileptic seizure is a burst of intense electric activity in the brain. It can cause lots of symptoms depending on where in the brain the seizure activity is. Often people associate seizures with falling to the floor and convulsing, however this isn’t always the case and some seizures can be much milder, such as causing brief periods of staring, known as an absence seizure.


What do seizures look like?

Simon: "Seizures can look very different – there are around 40 different types. Tonic-clonic seizures are the type of epileptic seizure which most people recognise. Here, a person goes stiff, loses consciousness, falls to the floor and begins to jerk or convulse. Other types include myoclonic, absence and focal seizures. See Epilepsy Action's website for more information."


Will all people with epilepsy have seizures?

Simon: "Yes, although for around 70% of people, seizures are controlled with anti-seizure medications. Not everyone will have the same types of seizures. Different types of seizures can look very different. For example, a person having an absence seizure might appear to be daydreaming or ‘switching off’."


Are all seizures due to epilepsy?

Alice: "No, although epilepsy is a leading cause of seizures, there are other causes such as illness and head injuries.

Simon: "Exactly, for example low blood sugar can lead to seizures in people with diabetes."


How can you help if someone has a seizure?

Alice: "If someone becomes unresponsive, a first aider will be trained to keep them safe and help to make sure they are able to breathe. This involves protecting them from injury while the seizure takes its course, and once the seizure is over, opening their airway and usually placing them on their side with their head tilted back so they can breathe safely while they recover. If you are unsure about how to help or you don’t know about the person’s medical background, it’s best to call 999 for advice and assistance." You can find out more on the British Red Cross website.

Simon: "The CARE first aid video gives advice for tonic-clonic seizures:

  • Comfort - Cushion their head with something soft to protect them from injury.
  • Action - Time the seizure. Clear the area of anything that might be harmful. Check if the person has a medical ID or bracelet with more information on how to help.
  • Reassure - After the seizure stops, put the person in the recovery position (open their airway and usually place them on their side with their head tilted back so they can breathe safely while they recover). Reassure them.
  • Emergency - Call 999 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, the person is not regaining consciousness, goes straight into another seizure, has trouble breathing after the seizure stops, or has never had a seizure before.

If someone is having a focal seizure, they may not be aware of their surroundings. Guide them away from danger, reassure them, and stay with them until they recover.

If you are unsure about how to help or you do not know about the person’s medical background, it’s best to call 999 for advice and assistance."


What about febrile seizures?

Alice: "Febrile seizures affect around 1 in 20 babies and young children. Often children grow out of them, but they can still affect older children and adults. Febrile seizures are caused by a high temperature or fever. In addition to the usual actions to help with a seizure, the steps to take include trying to cool the person down to help their body manage the high temperature. If it is their first seizure, it's best to call 999."

All British Red Cross Training courses including Emergency first aid at work, First aid at work and First aid at work requalification, include training on how to help someone who is having a seizure. Book a first aid training course today and build up your confidence to save a life.

If you or your employer need more specific guidance around epilepsy and seizures, you can contact Epilepsy Action to discuss your requirements.