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Convulsions, also sometimes called seizures, are a medical condition in which a person’s body appears to shake in an uncontrollable manner. When a person experiences them, his or her muscles quickly contract and relax repeatedly. This is what causes the appearance of rapid shaking movements.
Although convulsions can be quite traumatic to witness, they are usually harmless to the person experiencing them. In most cases, they last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes, though much longer fits may also occur. If they last for a long period of time, generally defined as 15 minutes or more, they may be considered a medical emergency. The same is true if a person has several episodes in a row and does not appear to awaken between these episodes.
When a person experiences convulsions, he or she may suddenly fall or experience uncontrollable muscle spasms. He or she may also begin to drool or froth from the mouth, start snorting and grunting, and stop breathing for a period of time. Other symptoms include briefly blacking out, feelings of confusion, unusual eye movement, loss of bowel or bladder control, and clenching of the teeth. The person may also act in an unusual manner, such as laughing for no reason, suddenly becoming angry, or picking at his or her clothes.
There are several potential causes of convulsions. Those who repeatedly experience them usually have epilepsy, a brain dysfunction that can often be controlled with proper medication. Children under five years of age may also experience seizures as the result of a fever that quickly rises in temperature. Children who have convulsions due to fever typically do not experience long term brain difficulties or any other side effects from them.
Alcohol abuse or illegal drugs use can also lead to seizures, as can injury or illness of the brain. Choking, general head injury, electric shock, heart disease, stroke, and meningitis are all other possible causes of convulsions. Pregnant women experiencing toxemia and poisoning can also experience them.
When a person experiences convulsions, those around him or her should clear the area in order to prevent injury. It is best for the person to lie in a safe area and to have his or her head cushioned. Any tight clothing, particularly clothing around the person’s neck, should be loosened. If the person vomits, he or she should be moved onto one side in order to prevent inhaling the vomit into the lungs. The seizures should cease on their own, but if they do not stop after five to ten minutes, a witness should call 911.