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Convulsive Seizures

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This is a common misconception perpetrated in media that a seizure must be a convulsion (the kind where the person completely loses control of their body). Thus, characters will always have these seizures. In fact, there are many different types of seizures, with symptoms that range from simply losing consciousness and staring into space for a few seconds to losing control of a limb but maintaining full consciousness (a Jacksonian, or focal partial seizure), to the full-blown writhing on the ground episodes, and everything in between. This trope probably exists due to Rule of Drama, as well as a concern that the audience won't be able to tell that someone is having a seizure unless they're convulsing. After that original idea has taken hold, The Coconut Effect ensures its continued use.

It's also a common mistake that seizures are set off by flashing images, or that all flashing images set off seizures. This is called Photosensitive Epilepsy and it's seen in about 10% of people with epilepsy. While it CAN cause seizures in individuals without epilepsy, it takes a very specific framerate to do so.

See also Hollywood Heart Attack and Epilepsy.


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     Anime And Manga  
  • Sailor Moon has Hotaru (Sailor Saturn) go through seizures in which she clenches her chest and falls to her knees, resembling another common medical misconception, the Hollywood Heart Attack. This is actually because of Mistress 9 controlling her.

  • A Wedding (1978): Muffin's brother Hughie needs to take pills for his epilepsy. Unlike most examples of the trope, though, the one time he has an attack, he shakes a bit and snot comes from his nose, but he doesn't fall to the ground or anything.
  • Both averted and played straight in The Andromeda Strain (1971). During Dr. Leavitt's first epileptic seizure she just sits there dazed. During her second seizure she falls unconscious and starts convulsing.
  • The disease in Contagion (2011) causes victims to seize and die, that being said, most of the time seizing is shown convulsions are involved.
  • In the film of The Twelve Chairs, the main character twice fakes an epileptic fit by lying on the ground and thrashing his limbs about.
  • In Self/less, this is what happens when someone undergoes shedding and doesn't take their medication. It's actually the mind of the original owner of the body trying to reassert itself.
  • In Bud And Lou, a biopic about Abbott and Costello, Bud Abbott suffers an epileptic seizure on stage the first night he and Lou work together.

  • In "The Reigate Squires," Sherlock Holmes has a convulsive seizure (referred to as a "nervous attack"), the explanation for this being that he had been under a lot of strain and had only just recovered from an (unspecified) severe illness. We later learn that Holmes faked the seizure in order to stop a conversation that might jeopardize the case, fooling even Dr. Watson. This is justified: Aside from the seizure being faked anyway, "The Reigate Squires" was set in 1887, when even a medical professional like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wouldn't have known very much about seizures.
  • The fourth book of The Sword of Truth, Blood of the Fold , has Cara writhing after a mental attack.
  • The first book of Tad Williams's Otherland series involves a child having a seizure. Someone asks him about some pretty lights and before you can blink, he's on the ground foaming at the mouth.
  • Discussed in Words of Radiance. Renarin says he has epilepsy, but instead of the convulsive seizures people imagine, he tends to start twitching and become weak along one side of his body.
  • In the latter books of the Vorkosigan Saga, Miles develops a seizure-inducing condition as a side-effect of having been temporarily dead. He's prescribed a device that can artificially induce lesser seizures to forestall the bigger ones - and the bigger ones are full-blown thrashing-around-bite-your-tongue bad. He has a mouth guard for the small ones just in case.
  • In the sixth and seventh Warrior Cats arcs, Shadowsight has convulsive seizures that often come with visions. In at least one instance the other characters are told they must hold him down, but this is not recommended in real life as it can cause injury.

     Live Action TV  
  • My Country: The New Age: Yeon falls to the ground and convulses when she has seizures.
  • Hannibal averts this with Will having an absence seizure. Helped by the fact there's both a psychologist and a civilian present to allow the audience to understand what's going on.
  • House averts this trope frequently. Both absence seizures and complex partial seizures have been shown.
  • Averted on The Young and the Restless. Victor Newman, a longtime character, has been diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy (which they portray accurately), which produces seizures that involve blackouts and hallucinations over convulsions.
  • Archie in Horatio Hornblower has to deal with these in the first series. This becomes a plot point in the first episode, when he has one at the worst possible time.
  • Dex in Home and Away develops seizures after a brain injury. He spends most of a day dizzy and having trouble with balance, words, focus and perceptions before finally full-body seizing.
  • Supernatural: Sam has full-body seizures when the wall in his head blocking his memories of hell comes down.

     Mythology and Religion 

     Tabletop RPG  
  • Shadowrun supplement Man & Machine: Cyberware. If Cerebral Booster bioware is seriously damaged, the person in whom it's implanted will suffer epileptic seizures with convulsions.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3.5's Unearthed Arcana (a big book of variant rules and related design philosophy) has rules for "Taint," powerful evil that has a physically and spiritually corroding touch. One of the potential side-effects of too much accumulated Taint is "uncontrollable seizures that wrack the body with spasms." It's an update to the Taint rules in the 3rd Edition Oriental Adventures book, which based it off of the idea of Shadowlands Taint in Legend of the Five Rings.

     Video Games  
  • In Final Fantasy VI, one of the status ailments is actually called "seizure". Called "Sap" in later games (and in the game's re-release), it's a normal status ailment that Squaresoft loves putting in that is essentially a damage over time effect.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots has a scene near the end of Act 1 in which Liquid Ocelot shuts down the nanomachines in everyone's bodies, causing their bodies to react violently, including Meryl (who foams at the mouth) and Snake himself. Later on in Act 2, Naomi Hunter gives Snake a serum for when that very effect occurs again, after a lengthy explanation of why everything went chaotic in Act 1, saying "which is why you're having the seizures".

     Web Comics 
  • In Forest Hill, Kaleb begins having seizures due to a head injury. The first time it happens, it is an absence seizure lasting a few seconds that happens without warning. Later he has convulsive seizures triggered by stress.
  • When young Victor Marlowe gets seizures in Charby the Vampirate due to Ixzerites taking advantage of his conflicting bloodlines they consist of violent convulsions, frothing at the mouth and rolled back eyes.

     Web Original 
  • In To Boldly Flee, after Spoony is put in a device by Doctors Block and Tease, he begins violently convulsing as some sort of energy build-up is detected in him. When it's finally over, he shoots a burst of energy from his mouth.
    • This is lampshaded in the group commentary, when one of the commenters notes that someone should have stuck something in Spoony's mouth so he didn't bite his tongue off.
  • In The Nostalgia Critic's review of "Christmas With The Kranks" he averts this by his speech slowing, his eyes rolling back and then collapsing.

     Western Animation  
  • In an episode of The Simpsons where the family visits Japan, they happen to see an anime on TV with Epileptic Flashing Lights, an obvious reference to the infamous Pokémon episode. Everyone falls down to the floor and has a seizure, except for Homer, who just "joins in". What makes this even more bizarre is that nobody in the family has been portrayed with epilepsy before or after that.
  • Whitey from Eight Crazy Nights has several bouts of epilepsy throughout the movie, including the very last shot.
  • Looney Tunes: in "Hare Tonic," Bugs Bunny creates a disease called "rabbititus" to troll Elmer. One of the symptoms is throwing fits, and Bugs assures Elmer he isn't doing so. He then goes into to pretend convulsions which a frightened Elmer is sold on.

Alternative Title(s): All Seizures Are Convulsive