September 1, 2022

What is rescue medication for seizures and how is it used?

About Epilepsy

Rescue medication for seizures can help to stop longer seizures and cluster seizures. Learn what they are and how they are used.

Most epileptic seizures last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Sometimes they can last for five minutes or more, or they come in clusters where you don’t fully recover between them. If this happens, it’s called ‘status epilepticus’ and is considered a medical emergency.

If someone experiences status epilepticus, then rescue medication for seizures might be used to bring the seizures to a stop. These drugs are usually given by ER staff, but sometimes a carer or family member can also administer them. 

Here’s what you need to know about seizure rescue medication.

Close up photo of some pills

What is rescue medication for seizures?

Seizure rescue medications are powerful drugs which ‘calm’ the body’s nervous system and can stop a seizure in its tracks There are several kinds of rescue medication for seizures, although most are a type of drug called benzodiazepines. 

Rescue medication is often used in emergency rooms by doctors, but there are a few kinds of seizure rescue medication that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for home usage. These include:

  • Diastat: A diazepam rectal gel
  • Nayzilam: A midazolam nasal seizure rescue medication
  • Valtoco: A diazepam nasal seizure rescue medication

Seizure rescue medications should not be used as an alternative to your regular anti-epilepsy medication. They are powerful drugs that can have serious side effects, so they should only be used in emergencies by someone who’s been trained to give them.

Emergencies: Seizure first aid

Who might be prescribed rescue medication for seizures?

Most of the time, doctors do not prescribe seizure rescue medication to people with epilepsy. But, there are certain situations where they might recommend it:

  • Children with hard to control seizures: Doctors may prescribe pediatric seizure rescue medication for children whose seizures are severe and hard to control.
  • People at risk of status epilepticus: Some people’s seizures might make them more likely to have long seizures, so rescue medication could be helpful.
  • Where you live: If you live somewhere that is a long distance from an emergency room (such as in rural areas), doctors might decide it’s helpful for you to have rescue medication at home.
  • Your personal history: Some people might struggle with remembering to take their anti-epilepsy medication, and often end up in ER as a result. In these situations, doctors might decide it’s worth prescribing rectal or nasal seizure rescue medication so they don’t have to go to hospital so often.

If you are prescribed seizure rescue medication, someone you live with or another carer (such as your school nurse) should be trained in how to use it.

Seizure management: What is refractory epilepsy?

Using rescue medication as part of your seizure action plan

When you, or someone you care for, are diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor will help you design a personalized seizure action plan. This might include the use of seizure rescue medication.

If you have been prescribed rescue medication for seizures, then it’s essential to tell your doctor each time you use it. With Epsy, you can record whenever you take your seizure rescue medication, so you remember to tell them at your next appointment. If your treatment team uses Epsy, it will show them that you have  recorded this information in the app.