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Grand mal seizure

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A grand mal seizure - also known as a tonic-clonic seizure - is a common type of seizure, characterized by loss of consciousness, falling down, loss of bowel or bladder control, and rhythmic convulsions. Seizures result from an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain. Other types of seizures include petit mal seizure and temporal lobe seizure.

Screening and diagnosis

Although the signs and symptoms of a grand mal seizure may be easy to recognize, diagnosing the underlying causes of seizure disorders may be difficult.

Your doctor may use these diagnostic approaches:

  • Medical history. Descriptions of your past seizures from you and from family members can help your doctor identify the type and causes of your seizures.

  • Physical and neurologic examination. Aside from a routine physical examination, your doctor may perform a neurologic examination — testing your reflexes, muscle tone and strength, function of your senses, gait, posture, coordination, and balance. Your doctor may also ask questions to test your thinking, judgment and memory.

  • Electroencephalography (EEG). This procedure measures the waves of electrical activity your brain produces. Small electrodes are attached to your scalp with paste or an elastic cap as you lie still. You remain still during the test, but at times you may be asked to breathe deeply and steadily for several minutes or to stare at a patterned board. At times, a light may be flashed in your eyes. These actions are meant to stimulate your brain. The electrodes pick up the electrical impulses from your brain and send them to the EEG machine, which records your brain waves on a moving sheet of paper or digitally on a computer screen.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scan. Images taken of your brain may help determine what's causing your seizures and can rule out other disorders such as a stroke or a brain tumor.

  • Blood tests. These tests may reveal a chemical imbalance in your blood or presence of toxic substances. Blood tests may also exclude other causes of seizures.

  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). Removing a small sample of fluid for laboratory analysis may reveal evidence of an infection or inflammation that may be causing your seizures. A spinal tap is usually performed only on people who have a sudden onset of seizures for which the cause isn't known.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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