A convulsion is a medical condition where body muscles contract and relax rapidly and repeatedly, resulting in uncontrolled actions of the body. They can continue for a few seconds or many minutes. Convulsions can happen to a specific part of a person’s body or may affect their whole body.
Epileptic seizures are characterized by electrical disturbances in the brain. Not all are associated with convulsions; those that are include:
- Generalized tonic-clonic seizures, also known as Grand Mal seizures, characterized by stiffening during the tonic phase and violent jerking during the clonic phase.
- Myoclonic seizures, characterized by sporadic and brief jerking, typically on both sides of the body.
- Tonic seizures, which only involves stiffening.
- Clonic seizures, which only involves jerking and spasms.
- Atonic seizures, which often start with a myoclonic disease before muscle control is abruptly lost.
- Simple partial seizures, which can sometimes cause jerking, stiffening, muscle rigidity, spasms, and head-turning.
What Causes Convulsions?
The common causes of convulsions are epileptic seizures, febrile seizures, non-epileptic seizures, and medication-induced convulsions. Several different conditions can cause convulsions.
Convulsions are a common symptom of epilepsy. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy is a condition that causes a person to experience many seizures. Seizures are electrical disturbances in the brain. There are many different types of seizure, which each have different symptoms.
Sometimes, epileptic seizures can cause a person to experience convulsions. The most common type is called tonic-clonic seizures. “Tonic” means stiffening, while “clonic” means jerking. These movements describe the primary characteristics of the seizure.
In addition to convulsions, a person may also make a groaning noise as air travels forcefully past their vocal cords. Many people think of convulsions when they refer to epileptic seizures, but some seizures do not result in convulsions. For example, an absence seizure is when a person remains motionless and unresponsive during an electrical disturbance in the brain.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), febrile seizures can affect children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years who are experiencing a fever. Febrile seizures cause convulsions that typically last up to 5 minutes. The majority of febrile seizures do not have any lasting negative impact on a child. They are generally harmless and do not require treatment.
Paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia
According to the National Centre for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia (PKD) is a rare condition that causes convulsions. PKD seizures typically happen after a person experiences a sudden motion, such as being startled or standing up. The convulsions typically last less than 5 minutes but can last longer in some cases.
A person will usually experience fewer episodes as they get older. It is a genetic condition, which means a parent can pass it on to their children. Research has found that anticonvulsant drugs, such as carbamazepine are an effective treatment for PKD.
In rare cases, certain medications can cause epileptic seizures with convulsions. The Epilepsy Foundation provides an extensive list of toxins and drugs that could trigger epileptic seizures.
There is some evidence that migraines may lead to epileptic seizures. This is called migralepsy. However, other research disputes this understanding of migralepsy. More research is necessary to help determine whether migralepsy is a distinct condition.
What To Do If a Person is Experiencing Convulsions
Placing a person experiencing convulsions on their side can assist their breathing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if a person is experiencing convulsions over most of their body, there are various first-aid practices someone can do to help them.
- Placing them on the floor so they do not fall and hurt themselves.
- Putting them onto their side so they can breathe easier.
- Clearing the area of hard or sharp objects.
- Placing something soft and flat under their head.
- Removing their glasses.
- Loosening or removing anything around their neck, such as a tie or a necklace.
- Calling an ambulance if the seizure continues for more than 5 minutes.
- Belcastro, V., et al. (2011). Migralepsy, hemicrania epileptica, post-ictal headache and “ictal epileptic headache”: A proposal for terminology and classification revision.
- Febrile seizures fact sheet.
- Kiriakopoulos, E.. & Schafer, P. O. (2017). Absence seizures.
- Kiriakopoulos, E.. & Schafer, P. O. (2017). Tonic-clonic seizures.
- Koppel, B. S. (2004). Toxins and drugs reported to induce seizures.