What is Grand Mal?

A Kaminsky

Many people have seizures. They occur when the electrical impulses in the brain begin firing abnormally. Seizures can take many forms, but probably the most dramatic is the grand mal seizure. When people think of others having epilepsy or another seizure disorder, this is often the kind of seizure they picture.

A person providing aid to someone suffering a grand mal should always call 911 for assistance.
A person providing aid to someone suffering a grand mal should always call 911 for assistance.

A grand mal seizure, while dramatic, usually follows a fairly predictable course. The person loses consciousness and falls down. Then, his body goes rigid for 15-20 seconds. The person then has convulsions which usually last for one or two minutes. After that, the person usually goes limp and regains consciousness shortly thereafter.

A person suffering a grand mal seizure typically loses consciousness and falls down.
A person suffering a grand mal seizure typically loses consciousness and falls down.

Epilepsy is probably the most well-known cause of the grand mal, but there are others. Infection, a brain tumor, birth defects, metabolic disturbances, vascular deficiencies, and ingestion of toxins can all cause grand mal seizures. Having a grand mal also does not "diagnose" epilepsy. Most people who have a grand mal seizure do not, in fact, have the disease.

Brain scans and EEGs may be used to determine the cause of a seizure.
Brain scans and EEGs may be used to determine the cause of a seizure.

Most of those who have a grand mal experience only one in their entire lives. However, medical attention should certainly be sought after the seizure ends. A victim should note the date, time, and duration of the seizure, if known. This will help the doctor in diagnosing the cause.

Grand mal seizures may require emergency medical treatment.
Grand mal seizures may require emergency medical treatment.

There are sensible first-aid steps anyone can follow if they see someone having a grand mal. The person should first gently roll the victim on to his side. This helps prevent his airway from becoming blocked. Then the person should get a pillow or rolled up towel or jacket and place it under the victim's head.

If someone is experiencing a grand mal seizure, 911 should be called for assistance.
If someone is experiencing a grand mal seizure, 911 should be called for assistance.

The person rendering aid should look for any kind of medical alert bracelet or necklace, and should also call 911 for assistance. The person should never place anything in the victim's mouth. It is not possible to "swallow the tongue" and as mentioned, being on his side will help keep the victim's airway clear. The person rendering aid should also make a note of how long the seizure lasts, as far as can be determined.

After the seizure ends, the person should stay with the victim and provide reassurance. The victim may or may not realize what happened, and may be confused or disoriented, so he should not be left alone until medical help arrives. Even if the victim has seizures and understands them, the person rendering aid should always call 911.

There are many anti-seizure medications on the market. A doctor will usually prescribe them depending on the kind of seizure, frequency, duration, and origin. It may take some "tinkering" to get exactly the right combination, but most people can have good seizure control with appropriate medical care. A grand mal seizure is rarely life-threatening. However, they are scary to witness -- usually much more so for the onlooker than for the victim.

There are many anti-seizure medications on the market that can prevent Grand Mal seizures.
There are many anti-seizure medications on the market that can prevent Grand Mal seizures.

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