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Generalized tonic-clonic seizure

Seizure - tonic-clonic; Seizure - grand mal; Grand mal seizure; Seizure - generalized; Epilepsy - generalized seizure

Generalized tonic-clonic seizure is a type of seizure that involves the entire body. It is also called grand mal seizure. The terms seizure, convulsion, or epilepsy are most often associated with generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

Causes

Seizures result from overactivity in the brain. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures may occur in people of any age. They can occur once (single episode). Or, they can occur as part of a repeated, chronic illness (epilepsy). Some seizures are due to psychological problems (psychogenic).

Symptoms

Many people with generalized tonic-clonic seizures have vision, taste, smell, or sensory changes, hallucinations, or dizziness before the seizure. This is called an aura.

The seizures often result in rigid muscles. This is followed by violent muscle contractions and loss of alertness (consciousness). Other symptoms that occur during the seizure may include:

  • Biting the cheek or tongue
  • Clenched teeth or jaw
  • Loss of urine or stool control (incontinence)
  • Stopped breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Blue skin color

After the seizure, the person may have:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness that lasts for 1 hour or longer (called the post-ictal state)
  • Loss of memory (amnesia) about the seizure episode
  • Headache
  • Weakness of 1 side of the body for a few minutes to a few hours following seizure (called Todd paralysis)

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam. This will include a detailed check of the brain and nervous system.

An EEG (electroencephalogram) will be done to check the electrical activity in the brain. People with seizures often have abnormal electrical activity seen on this test. In some cases, the test shows the area in the brain where the seizures start. The brain may appear normal after a seizure or between seizures.

Blood tests may also be ordered to check for other health problems that may be causing the seizures.

Head CT or MRI scan may be done to find the cause and location of the problem in the brain.

Treatment

Treatment for tonic-clonic seizures includes medicines, changes in lifestyle for adults and children, such as activity and diet, and sometimes surgery. Your doctor can tell you more about these options.

References

Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 101.

Leach JP, Davenport RJ. Neurology. In: Ralston SH, Penman ID, Strachan MWJ, Hobson RP, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 25.

Thijs RD, Surges R, O'Brien TJ, Sander JW. Epilepsy in adults. Lancet. 2019;393(10172):689-701. PMID: 30686584 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30686584/.

Wiebe S. The epilepsies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 375.

  • Epilepsy

    Animation

  •  

    Epilepsy - Animation

    Having a brain seizure can be a terrifying experience. If you have a seizure more than once, you may have epilepsy, a problem with electrical activity in your brain. So, what causes epilepsy? For most people, the brain sends electrical signals throughout the body efficiently, in a coordinated way. In epilepsy, however, the normal pattern of electrical activity becomes disturbed. This causes the brain to be too excitable, or jumpy, and it sends out abnormal signals. The result is repeated seizures that can happen at any time. Epilepsy seizures usually begin between ages 5 and 20, but they can happen at any age. Common causes include Stroke, or a mini-stroke called transient ischemic attack; Dementia, or loss of brain function, such as Alzheimer's disease; Traumatic brain injury; Infections in the brain; Brain problems you are born with; or perhaps, a Brain tumor. Some people with epilepsy may have simple staring spells, while others have violent, uncontrollable shaking and loss of consciousness. Before each seizure, some people may have strange sensations, such as tingling, smelling an odor that isn't really there, or emotional changes. This is called an aura. Your doctor will perform a number of tests to find out if epilepsy is causing your seizures. One test, an electroencephalogram or EEG, checks your brain's electrical activity. Other tests can take detailed pictures of the part of your brain that is causing your seizures. Your doctor will most likely start treating your epilepsy with medication. These medicines, called anticonvulsants, may reduce the number of seizures you have in the future. Sometimes, changing the diet of a child with epilepsy can help prevent seizures. Your doctor will probably talk to you about making some changes in your life, such as reducing your stress, getting more sleep, and avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs. Surgery to remove a brain tumor or abnormal blood vessels or brain cells may make the seizures stop. Another surgery can place a Vagus nerve stimulator in your brain. This device is like a pacemaker for your brain that limits the number of seizures you have. For many people, epilepsy is a lifelong problem, and they'll always need to take anti-seizure medicines. There is a very low risk of sudden death with epilepsy. However, you, or someone else, can be seriously injured if you have a seizure while driving or operating equipment. If your seizures are uncontrolled, you should not drive.

  • Brain

    Brain - illustration

    The major areas of the brain have one or more specific functions.

    Brain

    illustration

  • First aid convulsions, part 1

    First aid convulsions, part 1

    Presentation

  • Epilepsy

    Animation

  •  

    Epilepsy - Animation

    Having a brain seizure can be a terrifying experience. If you have a seizure more than once, you may have epilepsy, a problem with electrical activity in your brain. So, what causes epilepsy? For most people, the brain sends electrical signals throughout the body efficiently, in a coordinated way. In epilepsy, however, the normal pattern of electrical activity becomes disturbed. This causes the brain to be too excitable, or jumpy, and it sends out abnormal signals. The result is repeated seizures that can happen at any time. Epilepsy seizures usually begin between ages 5 and 20, but they can happen at any age. Common causes include Stroke, or a mini-stroke called transient ischemic attack; Dementia, or loss of brain function, such as Alzheimer's disease; Traumatic brain injury; Infections in the brain; Brain problems you are born with; or perhaps, a Brain tumor. Some people with epilepsy may have simple staring spells, while others have violent, uncontrollable shaking and loss of consciousness. Before each seizure, some people may have strange sensations, such as tingling, smelling an odor that isn't really there, or emotional changes. This is called an aura. Your doctor will perform a number of tests to find out if epilepsy is causing your seizures. One test, an electroencephalogram or EEG, checks your brain's electrical activity. Other tests can take detailed pictures of the part of your brain that is causing your seizures. Your doctor will most likely start treating your epilepsy with medication. These medicines, called anticonvulsants, may reduce the number of seizures you have in the future. Sometimes, changing the diet of a child with epilepsy can help prevent seizures. Your doctor will probably talk to you about making some changes in your life, such as reducing your stress, getting more sleep, and avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs. Surgery to remove a brain tumor or abnormal blood vessels or brain cells may make the seizures stop. Another surgery can place a Vagus nerve stimulator in your brain. This device is like a pacemaker for your brain that limits the number of seizures you have. For many people, epilepsy is a lifelong problem, and they'll always need to take anti-seizure medicines. There is a very low risk of sudden death with epilepsy. However, you, or someone else, can be seriously injured if you have a seizure while driving or operating equipment. If your seizures are uncontrolled, you should not drive.

  • Brain

    Brain - illustration

    The major areas of the brain have one or more specific functions.

    Brain

    illustration

  • First aid convulsions, part 1

    Presentation

A Closer Look

 

Tests for Generalized tonic-clonic seizure

 
 

Review Date: 2/4/2020

Reviewed By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, FAAN, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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