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What is Grand Mal?

Amy Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at The Health Board. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
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Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at The Health Board...
Learn more
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