Generalized tonic-clonic seizure
A generalized tonic-clonic seizure is a seizure involving the entire body. It is also called a grand mal seizure. Such seizures usually involve muscle rigidity, violent muscle contractions, and loss of consciousness.
Generalized tonic-clonic seizures are the type of seizure that most people associate with the term "seizure," convulsion, or epilepsy. They may occur in people of any age, as a single episode, or as part of a repeated, chronic condition (epilepsy).
For more information see:
Seizure - tonic-clonic; Seizure - grand mal; Grand mal seizure; Seizure - generalized
Many patients have an aura (a sensory warning sign) before the seizure. This can include vision, taste, smell, or sensory changes, hallucinations, or dizziness.
The seizure itself involves:
- Loss of consciousness or fainting, usually lasting between 30 seconds and 5 minutes
- General muscle contraction and rigidity (tonic posture), usually lasting 15 - 20 seconds
- Violent rhythmic muscle contraction and relaxation (clonic movement), usually lasting for 1 -2 minutes
- Biting the cheek or tongue, clenched teeth or jaw
- Incontinence (loss of urine or stool control)
- Stopped breathing or difficulty breathing during seizure
- Blue skin color
Almost all people lose consciousness, and most people have both tonic and clonic muscle activity.
After the seizure, the person usually has:
- Normal breathing
- Sleepiness that lasts for 1 hour or longer
- Loss of memory (amnesia) regarding events surrounding the seizure episode
- Confusion, temporary and mild
- Weakness of one side of the body for a few minutes to a few hours following seizure (This is called Todd's paralysis.)
For more information about diagnosis and treatment, see:
Duvivier EH, Pollack Jr CV. Seizures. In: Marx, JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009: chap 100.
Kornblau DH, Conway Jr EE, Caplen SM. Neurologic Disorders. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009: chap 173.
Krumholz A, Wiebe S, Gronseth G, et al. Practice parameter: evaluating an apparent unprovoked first seizure in adults (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society. Neurology. 2007;69:1991-2007.
Schachter SC. Seizure disorders. Med Clin North Am. March 2009;93(2).
Trescher WH, Lesser RP. The Epilepsies. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jakovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa; Butterworth-Heinemann; 2008: chap 71.
Walker SP, Permezel M, Berkovic SF. The management of epilepsy in pregnancy. BJOG. 2009;116(6):758-67.
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.