Convulsions are when a person's body shakes rapidly and uncontrollably. During convulsions, the person's muscles contract and relax repeatedly.
The term "convulsion" is often used interchangeably with "seizure," although there are many types of seizures, some of which have subtle or mild symptoms instead of convulsions. Seizures of all types are caused by disorganized and sudden electrical activity in the brain.
Convulsions can be unsettling to watch. Despite their appearance, most seizures are relatively harmless. They usually last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. However, if a seizure is prolonged, or if multiple seizures happen and the person doesn't awaken in between, this is a medical emergency.
If a person has recurring seizures, and no causes can be identified, that person is said to have epilepsy. Epilepsy can usually be controlled well with medication.
Pay attention to:
The person may have warning symptoms before the attack, which may consist of:
In an infant or child, if the seizure occurs with a high fever, cool the child gradually with tepid water. You can give the child acetaminophen (Tylenol) once he or she is awake, especially if the child has had fever convulsions before. DO NOT immerse the child in a cold bath. See fever convulsions.
Call 911 if:
People with epilepsy should always take any prescribed medication and wear a medical alert tag.
Keep fevers under control, especially in children.
Pollack CV. Seizures. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 100.
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