Convulsions are rapid, involuntary muscle contractions that cause uncontrollable shaking and limb movement. Convulsions are common in epileptic seizures but can also result from infections, fever, and brain trauma.

In this article, learn more about what convulsions are, as well as their possible underlying causes.

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A convulsion occurs when a person’s muscles contract uncontrollably. They can continue for a few seconds or many minutes.

Convulsions can happen to a specific part of a person’s body or may affect the whole body.

Convulsions and seizures are not the same things. Convulsions are common during seizures. However, not every person experiencing a seizure will have convulsions.

For example, an absence seizure is when a person remains motionless and unresponsive during an electrical disturbance in the brain.

People may also experience convulsions without having a seizure.

Several different conditions can cause convulsions, including:

Epileptic seizures

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy is a condition that causes a person to experience many seizures.

Seizures are electrical disturbances in the brain. There are many different types of seizures, and each has different symptoms.

Sometimes, epileptic seizures can cause a person to experience convulsions. The most common type is called tonic-clonic seizures. “Tonic” means stiffening, while “clonic” means jerking. These movements describe the primary characteristics of the seizure.

In addition to convulsions, people may groan as air travels forcefully past their vocal cords.

Febrile seizures

Febrile seizures can affect children between 6 months and 5 years who are experiencing a fever.

Febrile seizures cause convulsions that typically last up to 5 minutes.

Most febrile seizures do not have any lasting negative impact on a child. They are generally harmless and do not require treatment.

However, if the seizure goes on for more than 5 minutes or if the child does not recover quickly, it is essential to call an ambulance.

Non-epileptic seizures

Non-epileptic seizures appear to be epilepsy but are not due to electrical disturbances in a person’s brain.

Doctors believe non-epileptic seizures are “psychogenic” illnesses. This means they occur due to mental or emotional stress. For this reason, doctors sometimes refer to them as “psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.”

Doctors often recommend psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help treat non-epileptic seizures. These treatments help a person manage the underlying stress causing seizures.

Paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia

Paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia (PKD) is a rare condition that causes convulsions.

PKD seizures typically happen after a person experiences a sudden motion, such as being startled or standing up.

The convulsions typically last less than 5 minutes. However, they can last longer in some cases. A person will usually experience fewer episodes as they get older.

It is a genetic condition, which means a parent can pass it on to their children.

Medication reactions

In rare cases, certain medications can cause epileptic seizures with convulsions. Antidepressants, stimulants, and antihistamines can cause seizures in some individuals. However, this is rare.


People may experience migraine with aura and a seizure shortly after.

Many refer to this as migralepsy. However, not all in the medical community agree that this is a separate condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if a person is experiencing convulsions over most of their body, there are various first-aid practices someone can do to help them.

These include:

  • placing them on the floor so they do not fall and hurt themselves
  • putting them onto their side so they can breathe easier
  • clearing the area of hard or sharp objects
  • placing something soft and flat under their head
  • removing their glasses
  • loosening or removing anything around their neck, such as a tie or a necklace
  • calling an ambulance if the seizure continues for more than 5 minutes

If a person is experiencing convulsions, the first thing to do is ensure they are safe. If the convulsions do not stop after 5 minutes, call an ambulance.

If convulsions happen regularly, it is vital to speak with a doctor to determine the underlying cause.

Some conditions that cause convulsions will pass with age, while others require medication to reduce their occurrence. In either case, a doctor will work with someone to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Convulsions are rapid involuntary muscle contractions. They often occur during seizures but are not the same thing. People may experience convulsions without having a seizure, much as people may have seizures without convulsions.

Infection, head trauma, and some drugs can cause convulsions without seizures.