Video examines dos and don’ts surrounding tonic-clonic seizures

January 28, 2016

By Deron Hamel

When it comes to epileptic seizures, it’s safe to say tonic-clonic seizures are the most recognized – and misunderstood – variety.

A new video on Epilepsy Ontario’s website provides insight into what tonic-clonic seizures are, what to do if you see someone having this type of seizure and what not to do.

Pictured above is a scene from the new video about tonic-clonic seizures.
Pictured above is a scene from the new video about tonic-clonic seizures.

In the video, a man and his girlfriend are walking through a park. Suddenly, the man stops in his tracks, falls to the ground and begins convulsing. Luckily, his girlfriend knows how to react. When she sees her boyfriend begin to fall, she responds right away and asks a person nearby to help her make him comfortable by placing rolled-up clothing under his head.

The stranger then asks the man’s girlfriend, “Is he going to swallow his tongue? Are you supposed to put a spoon in his mouth or something?” The woman then explains that putting anything in a person’s mouth during a seizure is dangerous.

“The best thing we can do is wait it out,” she says. “We’ve just got to make sure and there’s nothing around where he can harm himself.”

A common reaction when people have a tonic-clonic seizure is that someone calls an ambulance. However, unless the person does not have epilepsy, is in water, pregnant, or is injured from the seizure, calling for medical help is not necessary.

Medical help should be called if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes. Because of this, timing seizures is crucial. Medical help is also needed if a second seizure begins before the person has recovered from the first one. Prolonged seizures, or repetitive seizures without recovery in between, are medical emergencies that require urgent treatment because they can result in status epilepticus.

During a tonic-clonic seizure there is widespread seizure activity in both hemispheres and the individual would be unconscious.

Tonic-clonic seizures can start in different ways, depending on the type of epilepsy that a person has. For some people, their seizure may start as a focal seizure in a specific area of the brain and evolve into a bilateral convulsive seizure. For other people, the seizure is a generalized tonic-clonic seizure from the outset. Understanding whether someone has focal epilepsy or generalized epilepsy is important because there are different treatment options.

The video is one of three recently created through a joint project of Epilepsy Ontario and Epilepsy Toronto with funding provided by Ontario Trillium Foundation. The other two videos examine absence seizures and focal dyscognitive seizures.

Each video provides a glimpse into what specific types of seizures look like and explains what steps should be taken by those witnessing the seizure.

“We can use these new videos to show people how to identify different types of seizures and how to help when they see someone having a seizure,” explains Epilepsy Ontario project manager Nikki Porter.

“The videos dispel myths about seizures and (provide information about) seizure first aid. I hope they also help to destigmatize epilepsy.”

Voices of Epilepsy is featuring a series of articles focusing on each of the videos. Click here to read the article about focal dyscognitive seizures.

Click here to watch the videos.

If you have feedback on this story, or have a story of your own that you would like to share, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 23, or e-mail deron(at) You can also leave a comment below.

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