Convulsions and seizures are terms that people often use interchangeably. However, they have different distinct meanings in medical terminology.

Individuals may often use the terms convulsions and seizures to mean the same thing. However, it is important to understand they are separate health issues. Convulsions are a specific type of seizure, while seizure is a term that involves various types of atypical brain activity.

This article looks at the differences between convulsions and seizures.

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A seizure is a sudden electrical disturbance in the brain that can lead to various symptoms, including convulsions. They can present in different ways, including:

  • convulsions
  • altered consciousness
  • staring spells
  • unusual movements
  • sensory disturbances

Convulsions are a specific type of seizure involving involuntary and rhythmic muscle contractions and relaxations. These contractions can cause jerking or shaking movements of the body.

Learn more about convulsions.

The key difference is that a seizure is a broader term encompassing various atypical brain activities. Convulsions specifically refer to the physical muscle contractions and jerking movements relating to some types of seizures.

Not all seizures involve convulsions, which can occur as part of seizures or due to other medical conditions.

Learn more about seizures.

Both convulsions and seizures can cause a loss of control over bodily movements. During these events, people may be unable to control their muscles, leading to visible movements.

Both convulsions and seizures usually require medical attention and evaluation to determine their cause and appropriate treatment. Healthcare professionals will assess the underlying condition and determine the best actions.

The following sections explain common causes of convulsions and seizures.


Convulsions often have links to epilepsy. However, they can also result from other medical conditions, including:

  • Fever-related convulsions, or febrile seizures: These convulsions occur in young children due to high fevers, often due to infections. They are generally benign and temporary.
  • Metabolic disorders: Some metabolic imbalances, such as hypoglycemia — which refers to low blood sugar — and electrolyte disturbances, can lead to convulsions.
  • Brain injuries: Traumatic brain injuries, strokes, or other brain-related injuries can trigger convulsions.


Seizures can arise from various underlying factors, including:

  • Epilepsy: This is a neurological disorder involving recurrent seizures. Genetic factors or brain abnormalities can cause epilepsy.
  • Brain injuries: Traumatic brain injuries, such as those from accidents or falls, can cause someone to have a seizure.
  • Infections: Infections affecting the brain, such as encephalitis or meningitis, can trigger seizures.
  • Brain tumors: Atypical growths in the brain can cause seizures, often due to the disruption of typical brain activity.
  • Metabolic disorders: Certain metabolic conditions, such as phenylketonuria or mitochondrial disorders, can cause seizures.
  • Stroke: A stroke can cause sudden changes in blood flow to the brain, which can lead to seizure activity.
  • Withdrawal or substance misuse: Withdrawal from certain substances or drug and alcohol misuse can lead to seizures.
  • Unknown causes: In some cases, the exact cause of seizures may not be clear.

The following sections discuss common signs and symptoms of convulsions and seizures.


Some signs of someone experiencing convulsions include:

  • Muscle jerking: The primary characteristic of convulsions is the rhythmic jerking or shaking of muscles, typically affecting both sides of the body.
  • Loss of consciousness: In cases of generalized convulsions, such as in tonic-clonic seizures, there may be a loss of consciousness during the episode.
  • Incontinence: Loss of bladder or bowel control can occur during convulsions.
  • Grimacing or facial twitching: During convulsions, facial muscles may contract.
  • Tongue biting: Due to muscle contractions, a person may accidentally bite their tongue or the inside of their mouth.
  • Labored breathing: Breathing may become irregular or temporarily stop during convulsions.


Seizures can present in various ways beyond convulsions, depending on the type of seizure and the affected brain areas. These include:

  • Altered consciousness: Many seizures have links to altered awareness or consciousness, ranging from brief moments of confusion to complete loss of consciousness.
  • Auras: Some people experience auras, which are warning signs or sensations that precede a seizure. Auras can include strange smells, visual distortions, or unusual feelings.
  • Staring spells: Absence seizures involve brief episodes of staring into space and temporary unawareness of surroundings.
  • Unusual movements: Focal seizures can lead to repetitive movements such as lip smacking, hand rubbing, other automatic behaviors, or uncontrolled movements.
  • Sensory disturbances: Seizures can cause sensory experiences such as tingling, numbness, or strange sensations in parts of the body.
  • Sudden emotional changes: Seizures can lead to sudden emotional shifts or feelings of fear, anxiety, or euphoria.

The diagnostic process may involve:

  • Medical history: Doctors may gather information about a person’s medical history, convulsion or seizure descriptions, triggers, and associated symptoms.
  • Electroencephalogram: This captures and records the brain’s electrical activity during seizures, helping classify the type of seizure and determine the area of the brain involved.
  • Imaging studies: MRI or CT scans can identify structural abnormalities, tumors, or other seizure-related factors.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests can help identify underlying metabolic or genetic conditions causing convulsions or seizures.


Some treatment options for convulsions include:

  • Anti-seizure medications: If convulsions are due to epilepsy or other seizure disorders, doctors may prescribe anti-seizure medications, which are antiepileptic drugs, to reduce the frequency and severity of convulsions.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Avoiding triggers, maintaining regular sleep patterns, managing stress, and adhering to prescription medications can help prevent convulsions in some cases.


Doctors may treat seizures in the same way as convulsions, or they may consider the following:

  • Surgery: For people with seizures that do not respond well to medication, doctors may recommend surgery to remove the area of the brain responsible for the seizures.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation: This treatment involves implanting a device to stimulate the vagus nerve, which can help reduce seizure frequency.
  • Ketogenic diet: In some cases, a specialized high fat, low carbohydrate diet called the ketogenic diet can help control seizures, especially in children.
  • Responsive neurostimulation: This involves surgically implanting a device that monitors brain activity and delivers targeted electrical stimulation to prevent seizures.

Convulsions and seizures are terms that people often use interchangeably. They have distinct meanings within medical terminology. It is important to understand the differences between these terms to seek appropriate medical care.

Convulsions are the result of certain types of seizures and medical conditions. They involve involuntary muscle movements. In contrast, seizures are sudden electrical impulses within the brain that cause varying symptoms.