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  • Thomas Bull Dewees (1813 - 1876)
    Daily Local News March 7, 1876DEWEES- ON Sunday, March 5th, 1876, Thos. Dewees, of West Vincent, aged about 69 years.Funeral on Thursday at West Vincent Baptist Church.Ibid: March 11, 1876DEATH- Thos. ...
  • Louise Edith Gooderham (1888 - 1888)

A convulsion is a medical condition where body muscles contract and relax rapidly and repeatedly, resulting in uncontrolled actions of the body along with altered consciousness. The spasms cause jerky motions that generally last a minute or two.

  • Some people may use it interchangeably with the word "seizure," although a seizure refers to bursts of electrical disturbance in the brain.
    • A convulsion is a type of seizure.
    • Seizures may cause a person to have convulsions, but this is not always the case.
  • Convulsions can happen to a specific part of a person's body or may affect their whole body.
  • Convulsions can be a symptom of a number of conditions, including a sudden fever spike, tetanus, or very low blood sugar.


Convulsions can be caused by health issues that directly involve the brain, or they may be caused by severe systemic (whole body) medical conditions that affect brain function. The specific cause is often not clear. The most common causes of convulsions include:

  • Convulsive seizure
  • Medication reaction
  • Severe infection, sepsis (infection that spreads through the blood)
  • Very high fever (febrile seizures most common in children, 6 mo – 5 yr)
  • Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Diabetic crisis (extremely high or low blood sugar levels)
  • Hydration abnormalities—severe dehydration or over-hydration
  • Severe malnutrition
  • Excessive blood loss due to trauma or internal bleeding
  • Organ failure, such as acute renal failure
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Drug overdose
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Heatstroke

Less frequently:

  • genetic defects or brain tumors
  • paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia (PKD) is a rare condition that causes convulsions; It is a genetic condition
  • Convulsions can be caused by specific chemicals in the blood, as well as infections like meningitis or encephalitis.
  • deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • In Nigeria, malaria is a very important cause of convulsions among children under 5 years of age.
  • Many people think of convulsions when they refer to epileptic seizures, but some seizures do not result in convulsions.

Medical Conditions That May Be Confused With a Convulsion

There are a number of conditions that may be confused with a convulsion because they manifest with similar characteristics, which may include sudden, jerky, or involuntary movements. The most common conditions that may be confused with convulsions are:

  • Seizure/epilepsy: Some seizures, specifically tonic-clonic seizures, manifest as convulsions, while other seizure types do not resemble convulsions. Similarly, some convulsions are seizures, while some are not.
  • Psychotic episode
  • Myoclonus
  • Tics/Tourette’s
  • Spasms
  • Deliberately disruptive behavior
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease


  • Convulsions are generally quite noticeable. They generally involve the whole body, but some involve only one area of the body, such as an arm or a leg.
  • Convulsions may be brief in duration, lasting for only seconds, or they may continue for a long period of time and may continue until the medication is given.
  • Some of the key features of convulsions:
    • Rhythmic shaking or jerking (jerky movements of the arms, legs, body, or head)
    • Unusual physical movements
    • Cannot voluntarily stop the movements
    • Impairment of consciousness (decreased consciousness or complete loss of consciousness)
    • eyes rolling back in the head
    • face that appears red or blue
    • changes to breathing
    • stiffening of the arms, legs, or whole body
    • lack of control over movements
    • inability to respond
  • These symptoms usually last from a few seconds to several minutes, though they can last longer.
  • Children may be cranky after a febrile convulsion and some may fall into a deep sleep lasting an hour or more.

What to do if a person is experiencing convulsions

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if a person is experiencing convulsions over most of their body, there are various first-aid practices someone can do to help them.

  • placing them on the floor so they do not fall and hurt themselves
  • putting them onto their side so they can breathe easier
  • clearing the area of hard or sharp objects
  • placing something soft and flat under their head
  • removing their glasses
  • loosening or removing anything around their neck, such as a tie or a necklace
  • calling an ambulance if the seizure continues for more than 5 minutes
  • stay with them until the convulsion is over and they’re fully aware

What not to do if someone is having a convulsion

  • put anything in their mouth because this presents a choking hazard
  • restrain the person or try to stop convulsions
  • leave a person having a convulsion alone
  • try to lower a child’s fever by putting them in the bathtub during a convulsion

Resources & Additional Reading