A generalized seizure starts when all areas of the brain are affected by an abnormal electrical impulse.
There are different types of generalized seizures, including:
- Absence seizures (petit mal seizures)
- Myoclonic seizures
- Clonic seizures
- Tonic seizures
- Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures)
- Atonic seizures (drop attacks)
In some cases, the seizure may begin as a partial, or focal, seizure. These seizures may affect only part of the body. Then they may progress to a generalized seizure, which affects the whole body.
Patients experiencing a generalized seizure will often lose consciousness.
Symptoms of a generalized seizure can vary depending on the type of seizure. Symptoms may include:
- Stiff muscles
- Loss of consciousness
- A cry or groan
- Jerking of the arms or legs
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Limited or even stopped breathing
- Blue lips
- Loss of muscle tone
- Sudden collapse
Most generalized seizures typically last between one to three minutes. Tonic-clonic seizures can last up to five minutes and may need emergency medical attention.
Causes and Risk Factors
Many generalized seizures are caused by epilepsy.
Other conditions may also cause these seizures, such as:
- Serious head injury
- Brain tumor
- Brain infection (meningitis or encephalitis)
- Alzheimer's disease
- Loss of oxygen at birth
- Hardening of the brain's arteries
Patients with a family history of epilepsy or seizures may be at a higher risk. Although experts are not sure how the disease is passed from parent to child.
A detailed description of what happened during your seizure is important to making a correct diagnosis. Your doctor will likely need to speak to a witness who has seen your seizures, as people tend to go unconscious during some types of seizures.
The doctor will also perform a neurological exam. These examinations look at the muscles, including reflexes, muscle tone, and strength. They also look at how you walk, balance, coordination and posture.
One of the most useful tools for diagnosis an electroencephalogram (EEG). This records electrical activity in the brain. The EEG can record unusual spikes or waves in electrical activity patterns. Different types of epilepsy can be identified with these patterns.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans may be used to look at the cause and the location within the brain. The scans can show scar tissue, tumors or structural problems in the brain.
Correct treatment can help reduce or prevent seizures. In some cases, treatment can help patients to remain free of seizures for the rest of their lives.
Factors that affect treatment include:
- Type of seizure
- Frequency of the seizures
- Severity of seizures
- Patient's age
- Patient's overall health
- Patient's medical history
Anti-seizure (or anti-epileptic) medications can be highly effective. It may take a few tries to get the right drug and right amount. Your doctor will work with you to monitor side effects and find the best treatment.