Tonic-clonic seizures can be frightening to experience or even observe. It can cause violent muscle contractions and temporarily arrest breathing.
In general, these intense seizures are what many people know and what they picture when thinking about epilepsy. They can cause extreme muscle spasms and loss of consciousness.
Tonic-clonic, formerly known as grand mal seizures, occur due to an abnormal activity to the brain and are often connected with epilepsy. The most common triggers are low blood sugar, high sugar, and stroke.
There are two stages for this seizure. First is the tonic phase, in which the person may experience muscle contraction, loss of consciousness and falls to the floor. Then the clonic stage wherein the muscles will undergo rhythmic contraction of flexing and contracting.
In tonic-clonic seizures, expect the person to cry out, shake, jerk, fall, and become unaware of their surroundings.
Symptoms of Tonic-Clonic Seizures
Here are the symptoms associated with tonic-clonic seizures.
Tonic-clonic seizures may start with a simple or complex partial seizure called “aura.”
An aura can bring on abnormal sensations such as a particular smell, vertigo, nausea, and anxiety. These may be warning signs that a seizure is about to begin.
The person will lose consciousness and may fall to the ground. During this stage, the intense muscle spasms can force the air out of the lungs, which can translate as a moan or cry.
They may lose touch with their surroundings and may have saliva or foam coming from their mouth. Accidental biting of the tongue or cheek while in the tonic phase can sometimes result in bleeding.
Chest muscle stiffness may also occur. It can cause impaired breathing, bluish or grey colour in the person’s face, and gasping or gurgling sounds.
The clonic phase involves jerking movements, affecting the face, arms, and legs. In severe cases, the pulling and twitching may become intense and rapid.
But in minor seizures, the movements will begin to slow down as the body relaxes. Soon the person will return to its normal breathing.
After the Seizure (or Postictal Period)
Following a seizure, expect several minutes of unconsciousness. It is when the brain will recover from the seizure activity.
The person will gradually regain consciousness and feel tired, confused, exhausted, or embarrassed. They may not recall the seizure due to temporary memory loss in some cases. You should expect the person’s behaviour to be abnormal and potentially even combative after an episode, as the brain is still recovering.
First Aid Treatment
Here’s what to do if a person starts showing symptoms of tonic-clonic seizures.
Stay with the person and remain calm. While doing so, time the seizure from beginning to last of the stiffening and jerking movements.
A seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes is an emergency. Call Triple Zero (000) for medical help.
Keep the person safe.
Keep the person away from danger by doing the following measure.
- Put the person in a lying position and place something soft under the neck and head. Keep them away from sharp and hard objects or anything that can cause harm.
- Lose tight clothing such as shirt buttons, belts, skirts, or pants. Remove any pieces of jewellery and neck chains that can restrict their breathing.
- Keep the onlookers away. One to two people can give seizure first aid.
Turn the person onto the recovery position.
Position the person on their side with the head and mouth angled down. This help saliva or any fluid drain out and prevents the tongue from blocking the airway.
Do not hold the person down.
Trying to restrain them will only cause injury to you and the person experiencing the seizure . Let the person freely move but make sure they remain safe from harm.
Do not put any object in the person’s mouth.
Do not put anything that can cause choking or airway obstruction. It is physically impossible to swallow one’s tongue, and placing objects into their mouth may only lead to injury.
Do not give CPR.
We do not recommend giving rescue breathing as the person usually starts breathing on their own after the seizure.
Proper first aid care can help reduce and prevent seizures. There are several factors to consider when providing treatment, including the frequency and severity of attacks, the person’s age, overall health, and medical history.
For seizures in a wheelchair and other confined spaces, follow these guidelines.
Learn Seizure First Aid and Safety
Many people may find tonic-clonic seizures a frightening and intimidating experience. However, these seizures are easily treatable with simple first aid. Take antiepileptic medication when necessary, and watch out for developing symptoms.
Bystanders can follow basic first aid measures to help someone experiencing a seizure.
Enrol in a first aid course and increase your knowledge, skills, and confidence in recognizing seizures. Participants who complete the training course will receive a three-year certification – not to mention the skills to potentially save someone’s life. For additional information, please get in touch with our team today.