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Neurology and Neurosurgery

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Tonic and Clonic Seizures

Tonic seizures

During a tonic seizure, the person’s muscles initially stiffen and they lose consciousness. The person’s eyes roll back into their head as the muscles (including those in the chest, arms and legs) contract and the back arches. As the chest muscles tighten, it becomes harder for the person to breathe – the lips and face may take on a bluish hue, and the person may begin to make gargling noises. 

Many observers have the misconception that the person is in danger of “swallowing their tongue,” so they attempt to put something in the person’s mouth. Swallowing your tongue is actually impossible, and any attempt to open the now tightly clenched jaw may cause more harm than good.

Clonic seizures

During a clonic seizure, the individual’s muscles begin to spasm and jerk.  The elbows, legs and head will flex, and then relax rapidly at first, but the frequency of the spasms will gradually subside until they cease altogether. As the jerking stops, it is common for the person to let out a deep sigh, after which normal breathing resumes.

Tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures

A tonic seizure is typically accompanied by a clonic seizure – it is rare to experience one without the other. When both are experienced at the same time, this is known as a tonic-clonic seizure (formerly known as a grand mal seizure).

Treatment of tonic and clonic seizures

There is no one treatment method for any patient with a seizure disorder. Each treatment plan is tailored to the individual patient based on their diagnosis and symptoms. Treatment options may include medical therapy, nerve stimulation, dietary therapy, or surgery, as appropriate. Clinical trials may also be a valuable treatment alternative.

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For more information about clonic or tonic seizures or to meet with our doctors, request an appointment at the Epilepsy Center.

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