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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure
      Category : Health Centers > Brain and Nervous System

Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure

Alternate Names : Grand Mal Seizure

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Seizures are caused by sudden, large discharges of electrical impulses from brain cells. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures were formerly called grand mal seizures. They involve repeated convulsions, or jerking movements, of the limbs and trunk.

What is going on in the body?

Neurons are the nerve cells within the brain. They coordinate movement, thinking, personality, and sensory activities. Neurons communicate with each other through electrical discharges. A seizure occurs when excitable neurons give off abnormal electrical discharges. There are different types of seizures, depending on where the excitable neurons are located. Epilepsy is diagnosed when an individual has a repeating pattern of seizures.

Seizures are divided into two main types: generalized and partial. Generalized seizures affect the entire brain. The person loses consciousness or awareness of the environment. Partial seizures affect only one part of the brain. The individual usually doesn't lose consciousness. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures affect the whole brain.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Seizures have many causes. These may include conditions such as:

  • abnormalities in the blood vessels of the brain
  • atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries supplying the brain
  • bleeding into the brain, such as a subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • brain tumors
  • chromosomal abnormalities
  • congenital diseases or conditions
  • high blood pressure
  • pregnancy and its compications
  • stroke
  • transient ischemic attack, which is also called a mini-stroke
  • Diseases also can be a factor in seizures, such as:

  • advanced liver disease
  • Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia
  • epilepsy
  • hereditary diseases
  • infections involving the brain, including encephalitis, brain abscess, and bacterial meningitis
  • kidney failure, such as chronic renal failure
  • Injuries that may cause seizures include the following:

  • choking
  • electrical injuries
  • head injury
  • injury during birth or in the uterus
  • poisonous insect bites or stings
  • Additional factors that may cause seizures include the following:

  • alcohol withdrawal
  • craniotomy, which is brain surgery
  • high fever, especially in young children
  • illegal drugs, such as cocaine
  • lead poisoning
  • overheating
  • withdrawal from some medicines, including those used to treat seizures


    Next section


    Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Gerald C. McIntosh, MD
    Reviewer: Karen Preston, PHN, MS, CRRN
    Date Reviewed: 05/31/01

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