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  3. Generalized Seizure

Generalized Seizure

  1. What is a generalized seizure?
  2. Risks
  3. Symptoms
  4. Diagnosis
  5. Treatment
  6. Prevention

What is a generalized seizure?

A generalized seizure is a period of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. This may be due to a condition which causes recurrent seizures (epilepsy) but there are many other causes. Generalized seizures can affect people of all ages, but tend to occur more commonly in children. The most common symptoms are convulsions, a loss of consciousness, memory loss and confusion following the seizure. If a seizure last longer than 5 minutes, urgent treatment in the emergency department might be needed. Diagnosis is made based on the symptoms and seizure patterns in the electroencephalogram (EEG). The treatment depends on the cause. Anti-seizure medications are sometimes begun after a recurrent seizure, and usually work well to prevent further episodes.


Generalized seizures occur when uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain causes a seizure which affects the whole body. This may be by causing the classic, jerking seizure movements, or a complete stop in activity, such as what occurs in absence seizures. There are many causes of seizures, but in many cases, the cause remains unknown or is part of a condition which causes recurrent seizures (epilepsy). Other causes include high fevers (in children), alcohol withdrawal, infections of the nervous system and very low blood sugar levels, among others. Epilepsy is often genetic and tends to run in families. Depending on the cause, generalized seizures can affect people of all ages, but are more common in children and young adults. In people who develop epilepsy, the first seizure is usually before the age of 25.


A generalized seizure may produce a number of different symptoms. Many cause a sudden loss of awareness or consciousness, with a loss of memory, and sometimes, confusion following the seizure. A common form of generalized seizures produces widespread muscle cramping before convulsions begin, with sudden twisting and jerking movements of the limbs. During the convulsion, people may lose control of their bladder or bite their tongue. Another form causes a sudden, short-lived loss of muscular strength. The seizure symptoms usually last 1 to 2 minutes. After the seizure, people are often drowsy or confused, and may fall asleep. If there is an underlying cause for the seizure, there may be symptoms of this condition before the seizure occurs, such as a fever or confusion.


The diagnosis of a generalized seizure is often based on a description of the event. If the events are recurring, a video of the symptoms may be helpful in making the diagnosis. A test called an electroencephalogram (EEG) is done to examine the electrical activity in the brain and look for seizure patterns. During this test, a seizure may be provoked. Tests may be done to look for a cause of the seizure.


During the seizure, the affected person should be protected from injuries and put into recovery position. There is no reason to restrain the person or put anything into their mouth. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 min, call an ambulance. It is recommended to see a doctor following a first-ever seizure, regardless of how long it lasts. Medication to stop seizures is usually only started after a second seizure has occurred. If an underlying cause is found, this may require further medication or treatments.


Careful management of blood sugar levels in people with diabetes may help to prevent some cases of this condition. Taking and monitoring anti-seizure medications as prescribed can help to prevent some seizures.