Epilepsy and Emergency Preparedness

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November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month

Epilepsy is common. In 2015, about 3.4 million people reported having active epilepsy in the United States.

Epilepsy is a broad term used for a brain disorder that causes repeated seizures. There are many different types of epilepsy.managing epilepsy

A seizure is a short change in normal brain activity.(1) There are also many different kinds of seizures.

People are diagnosed with epilepsy when they have had two or more seizures.

Self-management is what you do to take care of yourself and your health. For people with epilepsy, that includes preparing for and responding to emergencies and disasters.

#PrepYourHealth for an Emergency

People with epilepsy have personal needs to consider when collecting emergency supplies and making an emergency plan.

Here are some other steps a person living with epilepsy can take to prepare for emergencies:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how you can create an emergency supply of medicine if possible. If you miss just 1 dose of medication, you can lose control of your seizures.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or carry some other form of identification. This way, if you have a seizure while in an emergency shelter, first responders will know how to better assist you.
  • Talk to family, close friends, coworkers, and neighbors about how they can help if you have a seizure.
  • Try to find out what triggers your seizures. Flashing lights, sounds, lack of sleep, and stress are triggers for some people. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to avoid seizure triggers during an emergency.(2)

Learn more about epilepsy and emergency preparedness.

Seizure Action Plans

More than a collection of names and phone numbers, an Emergency Action Plan is a user guide for how to stay healthy, informed, calm, and connected in an emergency. A person living with epilepsy should have an emergency action plan that includes a seizure action plan.

People with epilepsy need others to understand their condition. A seizure action plan is used to organize seizure information and inform bystanders and first responders on how to help during a seizure.

A good seizure plan should describe the seizures (seizures may not look like someone would expect) detail how to help (i.e., seizure first aid), and explain when to call 911.

Having a plan in place can help you feel ready for the unexpected.

when to call 911

Helping Others with Seizure First Aid

Seizures are common. About 1 out of 10 people may have a seizure during their lifetime. One day you might need to help someone who is having a seizure.(3)

You do not need formal training or special certification to give seizure first aid, but you do need education. Learn what you can do to keep that person safe until the seizure stops by itself.

These are general steps to help someone who is having any type of seizure:

  • Stay with the person until the seizure ends and they are fully awake.
  • Remain calm. Time how long the seizure lasts.
  • Keep the person safe by guiding or moving them from harm.
  • Comfort them and speak calmly.
  • Check to see if they are wearing a medical bracelet.
  • Keep their airway clear and loosen tight clothing around their neck.(3)

Knowing what NOT to do is important for keeping a person safe during or after a seizure. Here’s a list of things you should not do:

  • Do not hold the person down or try to stop their movements.
  • Do not put anything in their mouth.
  • Do not try to give mouth-to-mouth breaths. People usually start breathing again on their own after a seizure.
  • Do not offer the person water or food until there are fully alert.(3)

If you are interested in learning more or receiving certification, the Epilepsy Foundation has a free, online seizure first aid course.



  1. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/emergency/index.htm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/about/first-aid.htm


Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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5 comments on “Epilepsy and Emergency Preparedness”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    From a nurses perspective this article gives valid information on what to do if you see someone having a seizure. I think that with the number of people with a seizure disorder, it is a good idea to inform the public on what to do if you see someone having a seizure. It is also great to see education on patients with this type of disorder and how they should stick with their regimen that their physician offers.

    As a nurse and the aunt to three nieces who suffer from seizures, this is great information to have access to so that I can be prepared if one of my patients or nieces has a seizure. As a nurse, I feel 100% prepared and confident if one of my patients were to have a seizure that I would know exactly what to do. Throughout my training in nursing school what to do if a patient has a seizure is drilled into my head repeatedly and I still remember the steps to this day. But when someone you love has, a seizure be prepared to forget all your training and be wise enough to swallow your pride and let the professionals care for your loved one. I witnessed my 3-year-old niece have her first seizure and it was as if I had never gone to nursing school and had not been a nurse for years. Having to watch someone I love and someone so young and so fragile go through a seizure knocked the wind out of me and made me realize that as nurses when we go through our training, we are always picturing a stranger and never someone we love, and it was a shock to the system. However, after seeing her first seizure I do know for a fact that if it was to happen again, I would react according to my training and be able to support my niece and my sister if need be. As nurses, we feel we are prepared for whatever the world throws our way, but the truth is when it comes to someone you love be prepared to forget everything you have learned and rely on others to know what to do.

    From a nurse’s perspective, this article provides simple and accurate information on how to properly manage seizures. Many people believe that if someone is having a seizure they need to grab the person and try to control the convulsions but in reality that can cause more harm to the individual instead of helping them. The most important thing to do when witnessing someone having a seizure is safety. Loosening up articles of clothing, protecting the head, and knowing to not stick anything in their mouth, are all very important pieces of information to hold on to.
    They also mentioned discussing with your provider about having an emergency supply of medication in case of emergencies. It is always recommended to have extra medication stored because seizures can be triggered by anything at any time.

    As a nurse, it is was satisfying to read this information in regards to how to treat, maintain, and prepare as a person living with epilepsy. Many individuals suffer from seizures and not all of these individuals have epilepsy. It is vital to consult with your medical team in regards to what factors cause or influence your seizures. As mentioned above, wearing an identification device is key because often times individuals who suffer from epilepsy lose consciousness during a seizure and post seizures they are too disoriented to answer basic questions. Medication and treatment is essential; it’s important to speak which your physician before abruptly stopping any medication or incorporating something new.

    Ill first speak from a nurse’s perspective. I strongly feel that the information in this blog is very accurate and correct. I also think people with epilepsy should prepare a medical history folder with all of their medical history paperwork, maybe discharge papers from hospital visits and possibly some documentation from their PCP, in case of emergencies such as natural disaster, so that they have it on hand if they are evacuated. Not all people are computer savvy and will know how to pull it up online or retrieve it if they have to be relocated. Now I will speak from a sisters perspective, being the younger sibling of a persin who has epilepsy. My brother is 8 years older than me and I am his medical POA. Epilepsy seems to be something that people typically have all their life. My brother was diagnosed at 2 years old after having a series of seizures sending him into a coma for four days. Amazingly, he didnt have another seizure for 18 years when he was 20 years old and fell into one while out on a date with girlfriend. He was then placed on Dilantin (Phenytoin). This medication works for him as long as he doesnt run out or drink alcohol, he cant even have as much as a wine cooler. Lately he has been taking Keppra instead for about a year. He can have a drink with out going into a seizure and he usually has one about every 6 months as opposed to the 3-4 month intervals he was seeing on the Dilantin. I am hoping for some new scientific studies to show if this disease is something that is developed invitro or after birth. I am also hoping for some new studies on the treatment for the disease as well.

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Page last reviewed: November 3, 2022
Page last updated: November 3, 2022