A convulsion is a fit regarded as a medical condition where body muscles contract and relax rapidly and repeatedly, resulting in an uncontrolled shaking of the body. A person having convulsion appears to be shaking rapidly and without control.
Convulsions in babies and young children can be terrifying for parents. However, convulsions often don't cause serious health problems. In toddlers, though rare, fevers can sometimes trigger convulsions.
Because convulsion is often a symptom of epileptic seizures, the term convulsion is sometimes used as a synonym for seizure. However, not all epileptic seizures lead to convulsions, and not all convulsions are caused by epileptic seizures. Convulsions are also consistent with an electric shock and improper Enriched Air Scuba Diving.
When a person is having a convulsion, he/she may experience several different symptoms. These may include:
a brief blackout
awkward eye movements
grunting and snorting
loss of bowel/bladder control
sudden shaking of the entire body
uncontrollable muscle spasms
temporary cessation of breathing
and many more.
Symptoms usually last from a few seconds to around 15 minutes. If someone has a fit like this, it is advised to make sure they don't fall and injure themselves, cushion their head and loosen any restricting clothing/jewellery, and also call for medical help. Do not try to pin/hold them in place, as this could possibly cause harm or injury to the individual.
Sometimes there could be warning symptoms before the attack, such as:
fear or anxiety
Vertigo (feeling as if you are spinning or moving)
visual symptoms (such as flashing bright lights, spots, or wavy lines before the eyes)
Convulsions are often caused by some sort of electrical activity mishap in the brain. Oftentimes, the cause is not able to be pinpointed. Convulsions can be caused by chemicals in the blood, as well as infections like meningitis or encephalitis. A very common cause of convulsion is fever. Other possibilities include head trauma, stroke or lack of oxygen to the brain. Sometimes the convulsion can be caused by genetic defects or brain tumours. Convulsions can also be caused by any type-1 diabetic, whose blood sugar is too low. Hypoglycemia can cause very bad convulsions until the person's blood sugar is raised to normal level. Convulsions can also be caused by deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).
There’s usually a family tendency towards having convulsions.
Febrile convulsions are seizures that happen because of fever, which is a temperature higher than 38°C. We don’t know why, but the rapid rise in temperature causes an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain.
Febrile convulsions are pretty common. About 4% of children aged between six months and five years have them.
Two-thirds of these children only ever have one fit. Most happen when children are younger than three years old.
Children who have their first febrile convulsion before the age of one year have a higher risk of having more febrile convulsions. This type of convulsion tends to run in families and affects boys more than girls.
It can be very frightening and distressing to see your child having a febrile convulsion, but children don’t die from convulsions. Most febrile convulsions don’t cause long-term consequences or brain damage either.
Tests after a Convulsion (Diagnosis)
Febrile convulsions Someone who’s had a febrile convulsion probably won’t need tests.
Sometimes doctors might order blood or urine tests, or a chest X-ray, to work out what condition caused the fever. The affected person might be sent for an EEG if there are repeated febrile convulsions, but this won’t usually happen after a single fit.
Convulsions with other causes For a convulsion that isn’t caused by fever, your doctor will suggest an EEG, and occasionally a CT scan of the brain.
Treatment for Convulsions
The long-term treatment of general convulsions depends on what’s causing them and how bad they are.
A febrile convulsion usually lasts only a few minutes, and almost always stops by itself before you get the chance to do anything about it.
What to do when someone has convulsion
Although it can be frightening to see, most convulsions are not usually medical emergencies. In most cases, once the convulsions have stopped, the person affected recovers and their breathing goes back to normal.
What to do
Look around - is the person in a dangerous place? If not, don't move them. Move objects like furniture away from them.
Note the time the fit starts.
Stay with them. If they don't collapse but seem blank or confused, gently guide them away from any danger. Speak quietly and calmly.
Cushion their head with something soft if they have collapsed to the ground.
Make free their head and neck. Loosen tight clothing surrounding their head or neck.
Watch out for any vomit. If they vomit, move them to their side and clear out their mouth.
Don't hold them down.
Don't put anything in their mouth.
Check the time again. If the fit doesn't stop after 5 minutes, call for an ambulance.
After the convulsion has stopped, put them into the recovery position and check that their breathing is returning to normal.
Gently check their mouth to see that nothing is blocking their airway such as food or false teeth. If their breathing sounds difficult after the fit has stopped, call for an ambulance.
Stay with them until they are fully recovered.
If they are injured, or they have another convulsion without recovering fully from the first fit, call for an ambulance.
Prevention of Convulsions
There’s no guaranteed way to prevent convulsions.
For febrile convulsions, one’s fever can be lowered and become more comfortable by using paracetamol and taking off extra clothing. Sometimes the fit will be the first sign of a fever.
If one has a lot of febrile convulsions, your doctor might rarely consider prescribing anticonvulsant medications to be taken on continually for several years to prevent the fits. But this is a rare treatment, which a paediatrician or paediatric neurologist would prescribe and supervise.
Immunisations do not appear to increase the risk of recurrent febrile convulsions.
Prevention of non-febrile convulsions depends on the diagnosed cause of the fits.