How to Deal with an Epileptic Colleague

How to Deal with an Epileptic Colleague

Witnessing a colleague’s epileptic seizure can be frightening, and the aftermath can be awkward for both you and your colleague. Learning all you can about epilepsy can make things easier for everyone involved.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition in which a person’s brain sporadically misfires. Think of it as a computer glitch, like when you’re downloading a video and it stalls and gets all pixelated.

Symptoms of epilepsy vary greatly from person to person. Some people may just appear to “space out” for a moment, while others suffer from grand mal seizures, in which all the muscles in the body contract and convulse. There is no one “portrait” of a person with epilepsy, but symptoms can include:


  • Weakness in one part of the body. This could cause your colleague to stumble or to drop something.
  • People with “absence” seizures may suddenly appear to be daydreaming. They may stop talking in the middle of a conversation, stop listening, blink repetitively, or have random movement of certain body parts.
  • Some epileptics exhibit symptoms that look more like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like repetitively picking lint off of their clothes, or tapping their fingers over and over.
  • Some people with epilepsy actually lose consciousness during a seizure.
  • Some people with epilepsy experience full-scale convulsions in which they completely lose control of their bodies.

 What should you do if a colleague has epilepsy?

It depends. In some countries, medical privacy laws mean that you may never know a colleague has epilepsy unless and until a seizure happens at work. Even then, you may not know epilepsy caused the seizure unless your colleague chooses to explain.

If you know a colleague has epilepsy

If your colleague is willing to talk about his condition, that’s the best possible situation. The more information you have, the better. Helpful information would include:

  • Does your colleague experience “auras” – symptoms that occur before the actual seizure starts? Knowing your colleague’s auras can help you get him to a safe place before the seizure strikes.
  • Does your colleague take medication during or after a seizure? If so, where does he keep it, and what is the dosage?
  • What does your co-worker want you to do if he has a seizure at work? Does he want you to call an ambulance (many epileptics don’t need to go to the hospital for every seizure)? What about calling a family member or other emergency contact?
  • Is there anything else he’d like you to do to protect his safety, privacy, or dignity?

If a seizure strikes unexpectedly

Often, a seizure will be first sign a colleague has epilepsy. While it’s important not to attempt to provide medical treatment (unless you’re a doctor, of course), there are some simple things you can do to prevent your colleague from hurting himself:

  • Remove hard or sharp objects, or steer your colleague away from them.
  • Lower him to the floor, and try to find a jacket or other soft object to put under his head.
  • If possible, time the seizure. That information could be useful later.
  • Discourage other employees from standing around and staring.
  • Stay with your colleague until the seizure ends.
  • When your colleague regains awareness, be calm and reassuring. Answer his questions to the best of your ability, but refrain from drawing conclusions. Just explain what happened.

What not to do

  • Don’t physically restrain someone who is having a seizure; the risk of injury is too high. Instead, remove dangerous objects from the area.
  • Don’t put anything in your colleague’s mouth. Not only would you be risking harm to yourself, you could potentially injure your colleague’s teeth or jaw.
  • Don’t offer anything to eat or drink until your colleague has regained full awareness.


When it’s an emergency

Most people with epilepsy don’t need to go to the hospital after a seizure. However, there are a few situations in which you should call an ambulance:

  • A seizure lasts longer than five minutes.
  • A second seizure occurs before the person regains awareness from the first.
  • The person appears to be choking or to have been injured.
  • The person is pregnant or has another medical condition in addition to the epilepsy.

Witnessing a seizure is never fun. Neither is having one! But with a little education and sensitivity, you can help make the situation better for your colleague, yourself, and other employees.

photo credit: freeimages