Last Editorial Review: 12/31/1997

A seizure is a general term for a sudden attack. The term seizure is used in neurology (the medical specialty dealing with the nervous system) to refer to the sudden onset of abnormal electrical discharge within the brain which can lead to convulsions. Convulsions are uncontrolled violent spasms (jerking) of muscles of the body. Epilepsy is the medical term for the condition of having chronic seizure disorder.

It has been estimated that over ten million persons in the United States have a seizure during their lifetimes. Over one million persons in the United States have recurrent seizures.

Seizures can be generalized (throughout the brain) or focal (in a limited area of the brain).

The most common type of seizure is generalized, which can result from medical illnesses or be recurrent for unknown reasons (grand mal). A grand mal seizure is often preceded by an abnormal sensation (flashes of lights, smells, noises, etc.) called an aura, which can signal to the patient the onset of a seizure. This seizure progresses with convulsions throughout the body and often resolves with temporary coma (minutes) and residual confusion and headache.

Petit mal seizures are characterized by a brief loss of consciousness (seconds) without convulsions. Petit mal seizures occur most frequently in children between the ages of 4 and 14 years.

For more information, please see the Seizure Center.

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