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What Triggers Tonic Seizures? Symptoms of Epilepsy

Tonic seizure tiggers
Tonic seizures may result from a variety of health conditions, such as brain tumors and head injuries. Learn all the potential triggers for epilepsy now.

Unfortunately, it may not always be possible to determine the cause or trigger of tonic seizures. They could result from various health conditions, such as brain tumors, ruptured blood vessels in the brain, or a head injury.

Other potential triggers for tonic seizures could include:

  • Low levels of sodium, calcium or magnesium in the body
  • Low glucose levels
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Alcohol abuse or withdrawal
  • Certain genetic conditions or neurological disorders
  • Brain injury
  • Sepsis or infection in the brain
  • Hypoxia
  • Extreme sleep deprivation
  • High fever
  • Hyperthermia
  • Flashing or flickering lights

What are the signs and symptoms of tonic seizures?

During a tonic seizure, muscle “tone” (a muscle’s normal tension at rest) is greatly increased, resulting in the body, arms, or legs becoming suddenly stiff or tense. Though these seizures are short, often lasting less than 20 seconds, the person may fall if standing when it begins.

Generally, tonic seizures can be broken down into these two types:

  • Focal tonic seizure: Stiffening of a body part may begin in one area and remain localized. Hence, why it’s called a focal tonic seizure.
  • Generalized tonic seizure: Also known as a tonic-clonic seizure, this type results in a disturbance in the functioning of both sides of the brain. This disturbance is caused by electrical signals spreading through the brain inappropriately. Often, this will result in signals being sent to the muscles, nerves or glands, which could make a person lose consciousness and have severe muscle contractions.

Common signs and symptoms of tonic seizures include:

  • A strange feeling or sensation called an aura
  • Screaming or crying out involuntarily
  • Losing control of the bladder and bowels either during or after the seizure
  • Passing out and waking up feeling confused or sleepy
  • A severe headache after the seizure
  • For generalized tonic seizures, the person may stiffen and fall, with their limbs and face appearing to jerk rapidly as their muscles convulse

How are tonic seizures diagnosed?

There are several ways to diagnose epilepsy or what caused the seizure, which includes:

  • Neurological exam: Doctors will perform simple tests to check balance, coordination and reflexes. Their assessment includes muscle tone and strength.
  • Blood tests: Doctors may order blood tests to look for medical problems that could influence the onset of a seizure.
  • Medical imaging: Some types of brain scans can help monitor brain function. These could include an electroencephalogram (EEG), which shows patterns of electrical activity in the brain. They could also include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which provides a detailed picture of certain parts of the brain.

How are tonic seizures treated?

Treatment of tonic seizures is often based on the type and may include the right combination of medication, lifestyle changes and diet to successfully keep the seizures under control.

Antiepileptic medications

There are many types of medication used to treat epilepsy, including:


Brain surgery may be an option if medication isn’t successful in controlling the seizures. This option is believed to be more effective for partial seizures that affect one small part of the brain than for generalized ones.

Supplemental treatments

There are two types of supplemental or alternative treatments for generalized tonic seizures:

  1. Vagus nerve stimulation involves the implantation of an electrical device that automatically stimulates a nerve in the neck.
  2. A ketogenic diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates is also said to help some people reduce certain types of seizures.

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