What is Grand Mal Epilepsy?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 June 2019
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Grand mal epilepsy is a type of seizure disorder. A person may be said to have grand mal epilepsy if he loses consciousness during a seizure and experiences severe body jerking, which is caused by muscle contractions. Though there are different types of seizures, many people are most familiar with the grand mal type. These are the seizures that are most often depicted on television shows, and they may draw the most attention if a person is stricken with one in public.

Epilepsy is caused by changes in the normal activity of nerve cells in the brain. Interestingly, a person may also have a grand mal seizure without having epilepsy. An individual could have a seizure in response to a medication or because of a stroke, for example. In most cases, however, a person who has grand mal seizures also has epilepsy.

Grand mal epilepsy is marked by a tonic phase and a clonic phase. During the tonic phase, a person typically loses consciousness and experiences contractions that affect his muscles and cause him to fall to the ground. The next stage is the clonic phase, which is marked by violent contractions of the person's muscles. The stages are usually very short; the tonic phase often lasts for about 20 seconds or less, and the clonic phase often lasts for a couple of minutes, though it can be shorter.


Besides the muscle contractions that are typical of grand mal epilepsy, a person may experience other symptoms with this type of seizure. In some cases, a person with grand mal epilepsy may have a strange feeling, called an aura, before having a seizure. Another person may notice a weird smell or feel dread before a seizure starts. Additionally, a person may emit a scream as a seizure begins; this is often the result of contractions of the muscles around the vocal cords.

Some people also have symptoms after a grand mal seizure has ended. For example, a person with grand mal epilepsy may lose control of his bladder or bowels or remain unconscious for a time following a seizure. An individual may also be confused after having a grand mal seizure or feel very sleepy. Additionally, a person with grand mal epilepsy may have a headache after a seizure ends.

If a person has an isolated grand mal seizure, he may not need treatment. Some people, however, are at risk of repeated seizure activity and need medical treatment. This usually takes the form of anti-seizure medication.



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