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- Epilepsy Facts*
- What is epilepsy?
- What causes epilepsy?
- What are the different kinds of seizures?
- Focal seizures
- Generalized seizures
- What are the different kinds of epilepsy?
- When are seizures not epilepsy?
- First seizures
- Febrile seizures
- Nonepileptic events
- How is epilepsy diagnosed?
- Can epilepsy be prevented?
- How can epilepsy be treated?
- How does epilepsy affect daily life?
- Are there special risks associated with epilepsy?
- What research is being done on epilepsy?
- How can I help research on epilepsy?
- What to do if you see someone having a seizure
- Where can I get more information?
Quick GuideEpilepsy: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
What Are the Different Kinds of Seizures?
Doctors have described more than 30 different types of seizures. Seizures are divided into two major categories -- focal seizures and generalized seizures. However, there are many different types of seizures in each of these categories.
Focal seizures, also called partial seizures, occur in just one part of the brain. About 60 percent of people with epilepsy have focal seizures. These seizures are frequently described by the area of the brain in which they originate. For example, someone might be diagnosed with focal frontal lobe seizures.
In a simple focal seizure, the person will remain conscious but experience unusual feelings or sensations that can take many forms. The person may experience sudden and unexplainable feelings of joy, anger, sadness, or nausea. He or she also may hear, smell, taste, see, or feel things that are not real.
In a complex focal seizure, the person has a change in or loss of consciousness. His or her consciousness may be altered, producing a dreamlike experience. People having a complex focal seizure may display strange, repetitious behaviors such as blinks, twitches, mouth movements, or even walking in a circle. These repetitious movements are called automatisms. More complicated actions, which may seem purposeful, can also occur involuntarily. Patients may also continue activities they started before the seizure began, such as washing dishes in a repetitive, unproductive fashion. These seizures usually last just a few seconds.
Some people with focal seizures, especially complex focal seizures, may experience auras -- unusual sensations that warn of an impending seizure. These auras are actually simple focal seizures in which the person maintains consciousness. The symptoms an individual person has, and the progression of those symptoms, tend to be stereotyped, or similar every time.
The symptoms of focal seizures can easily be confused with other disorders. For instance, the dreamlike perceptions associated with a complex focal seizure may be misdiagnosed as migraine headaches, which also may cause a dreamlike state. The strange behavior and sensations caused by focal seizures also can be mistaken for symptoms of narcolepsy, fainting, or even mental illness. It may take many tests and careful monitoring by an experienced physician to tell the difference between epilepsy and other disorders.