Ictal is a medical term used to describe the time period during which a person is having a seizure. The word is also commonly used to describe the post-seizure period, known as the post-ictal period. The time extending between two strokes is known as the inter-ictal period.
During the ictal period, or the span of time during which a person is having a seizure, the affected patient is having abnormal brain activity causing him or her to have a variety of different symptoms. Most people think of a seizure as an impressive event during which the patient is unconscious and shaking in an uncontrolled fashion. This type of seizure, also known as a tonic-clonic seizure or grand mal seizure, is only one possible example of what can be seen during seizures. Some patients with seizures might have jerking of a lone extremity, whereas others might have stereotyped facial posturing during their seizures. Due to the wide variety of symptoms noted during seizures, the most conclusive way to diagnose that someone is in an ictal state is to undergo a procedure called electroencephalography (EEG), which measures the electrical activity of the brain.
The word ictal is also used as part of the term post-ictal, which is used to describe a person's state after having an acute seizure. During this time frame, many patients have a sense of confusion, disorientation, and lethargy. It might take hours to fully recover to their normal mental status. Patients in this state might discover some of the consequences of the seizure, such as bite marks on the tongue, bruises on the extremities, or soiled clothes as a result of uncontrolled bowel or bladder function during the ictal state. If a patient doesn't fully recover from the post-ictal state, this could be a sign that there are other underlying pathologic processes occurring, such as a stroke or an infection of the brain.
Another application of the word ictal is to describe the inter-ictal state, which is the length of time spanned between seizures. For some patients, this period might last months or years. If there is no inter-ictal period, a person might be experiencing a condition called status epilepticus, which occurs when back-to-back seizures occur without any break in between. Doctors and other health care providers try to prolong the inter-ictal state as much as possible with the use of a variety of anti-epileptic medications that serve to prevent seizures from occurring.