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What's the Difference between Seizures & Convulsions?

Learn the difference between seizures and convulsions from Steve Wolf, MD and Patty McGoldrick, NP in this Howcast video.


Steve Wolf MD: So the word "convulsion" and the word "seizure," they're really the same word. They both mean the same thing. Sometimes people think of the word "convulsion" as related to people whose sugar drops down too low, and they have a jerking fit or when they get whacked in the head, and they have a few jerks after getting whacked in the head. But to us it really means the same.

Patty McGoldrick NP, MPA: It does mean the same thing. But I think what people think about, too, is that a convulsion is big, generalized tonic-clonic seizure where the person's lying on the ground and shaking an jerking. And of course there's many different kinds of seizures that don't go into that convulsive state where they're jerking and twitching.

Steve: You know, I think the words and the nomenclature sometimes do get confusing, but they're really basically the same. They are not necessarily, when you say "convulsion," have to do with epilepsy. And I think that's important to bring out, or even just a basic seizure, and that we have to look at all the other possible things that can cause seizures, like hypoglycemia and diabetes, like head trauma, like someone who just faints, a syncopal episode, people who just faint can look like a convulsion. They can jerk and twitch once or twice. Any other things you can think of?

Patty: There's also pseudo-seizures, which are people that are very anxious and have an underlying psychiatric disorder that manifest itself by having something that looks like a seizure. So they can look like they're having real epileptic seizures. They're still seizures, but they may not be epilepsy. They may not arise from the brain. They can be a psychiatric manifestation of something going on.

Steve: So convulsions and seizures are basically the symptom, whether it's zoning out, spacing out, jerking or twitching. They might or might not be epilepsy if they're not recurrent. And you really need to look at what the underlying problem is that caused that seizure or convulsion from coming out.

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