- Types of Seizures
- Seizure Disorders
- Living with Seizures
What is a seizure?
- A seizure and a seizure disorder are not the same.
- A seizure is single occurrence of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, usually for short time span. It can cause numerous signs and symptoms like convulsions, thought disturbances, loss of consciousness, and/or other symptoms.
- Usually, doctors consider seizures a symptom of a disease.
- Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of recurrent unprovoked seizures, and is one type of seizure disorder.
- In epilepsy, a convulsion is a sudden, violent irregular movement of a limb of the body caused by involuntary contraction of muscles usually associated with epilepsy and/or toxic agents.
What is a seizure disorder?
- A seizure disorder is a medical condition (one of about 40) characterized by episodes of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, thus producing symptoms that include two or more seizures.
- Doctors separate the disorders from each other by their potential causes and their own set of symptoms due to the affected area in the brain.
What are the types and symptoms of seizures?
1. Generalized seizures result in loss of consciousness.
- Motor: Grand mal seizures (also called tonic-clonic with muscle jerks or spasms) and have signs and symptoms of stiffness of muscles (tonic), relaxed muscles (atonic), muscles that cause sporadic short jerking of body or limbs (myoclonic), and repetitive shaking or jerking of the body (clonic).
- Non-motor (absence): Symptoms include staring into space, sometimes with eye blinking.
2. Partial or focal seizures result in either no loss of consciousness or confusion for a few minutes.
- Aware: Twitching and/or sensation change
- Impaired awareness: No loss of consciousness, but you become confused for a few minutes
3. Unknown onset seizure
- Unclassified: It may share questionable features of generalized and/or focal seizures.
- Motor: Involving musculature
- Non-motor: Involving awareness
What are the types of seizure disorders? Are the signs and symptoms the same?
There are about 40 different types of named seizure disorders. However, all of the seizure disorders fit into one of the three seizure types listed previously. They differ from each other by some changes in the symptoms they produce. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to describe all types of seizure disorders, an example of how they are given names may give insight as to how their symptoms differ. For example:
- Simple partial seizure disorders differ from person to person depending upon the part of the brain affected.
- Benign Rolandic epilepsy in children causes tongue twitching, and may interfere with speech and cause drooling.
- Catamenial epilepsy refers to seizures that occur in relation to the menstrual cycle.
- Atonic seizures cause symptoms like falling usually not associated with loss of consciousness.
- Absence seizures cause a short loss of consciousness with little or no symptoms.
- Clonic seizures cause rhythmic jerks that involve both sides of the body simultaneously.
- Tonic seizures cause a stiffening of the muscles
- Febrile seizures usually occur in children between 6 months and 5 years of age. They are common in toddlers.
Other symptoms of seizure disorders may include:
- Eye blinking
- The lips may slightly jerk and move.
- Sudden loss of muscle tone
- The head drops suddenly
- The person cries out
- The person falls to the ground
- Changes in tastes or smells
- Biting the tongue
- The person cannot answer questions.
- Thought disturbances
- Eye rolling
- The person involuntarily urinates or has a bowel movement.
With these few examples, you can understand the complexity of seizure disorders and their symptoms.
Will I have to limit my activities after having a seizure? Can I drive?
Until your seizures are controlled, you should not do activities where loss of consciousness could be life-threatening. For example, avoid
- operating power tools, or
- taking a bath in a bathtub until about six months after becoming seizure free.
Some states require you to be free of seizures up to one year before you can drive.
- Women's Gymnastics Brings High Risk for Concussion
- Going Solo: Masturbation May Give Humans an Evolutionary Edge
- Longer Breastfeeding in Infancy, Better School Grades for Kids?
- Kids With ADHD, Behavior Issues Have Poorer Trajectories as Adults
- FDA Finalizes Limit on How Much Arsenic Can Be in Apple Juice
- More Health News »
How long do seizures last?
- Although most seizures stop spontaneously after several minutes (average is about 1- 2 minutes), there are conditions that may cause brain damage and/or life-threatening situations due to seizures.
- Status epilepticus (seizures lasting 5 or more minutes or if there is more than one seizure within five minutes) is a medical emergency; call 911 as the patient needs emergency treatment, usually with an anticonvulsant such as lorazepam (Ativan), given intravenously.
How are seizures and seizure disorders treated and managed?
- If you know the cause of your seizures or seizure disorder (such as alcohol intake or cocaine use, low blood sugar, and encephalitis), you should stop what's triggering them and/or treat any underlying medical conditions.
- For example, stop drinking alcohol and/or abusing legal or illegal drugs; and manage your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
- Take your medication as your doctor or other health care professional has prescribed.
- Seizures that do not respond to treatment may cause you and your medical team (primary care doctor, neurologist, and neurosurgeon) to consider surgery or nerve stimulation treatment.
Can seizures or seizures disorders be prevented?
- Depending upon the cause of the seizure and/or seizure disorder, the chances of reducing or preventing some of them is possible. You can do this by avoiding any known potential causes or triggers of your seizures, like drinking excessive alcohol or using cocaine and other illegal drugs.
- You should take your medicine as your doctor has prescribed to reduce the chance of developing another seizure.
- For some patients, brain surgery may eliminate seizures by removing the epileptic focus the brain tissue.
- Vagus nerve stimulation is another potential way to prevent some seizures.
- However, none of these treatments provides 100% prevention. In addition, it is difficult to prevent seizures caused by birth defects, injuries, strokes, or tumors.
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
CDC. "Types of Seizures." Updated: Apr 10, 2017.
Epilepsy Foundation. "Types of Seizures." Updated: May 2017.
Top Seizure vs Seizure Disorders Whats the difference Related Articles
Alcohol Abuse SlidesRead about the health risks of chronic heavy or binge drinking. Anemia, cancer, gout, cardiovascular disease and many more diseases can be caused by heavy or binge drinking.
Alcohol and TeensAlcohol is the most frequently used drug by American teenagers. Teens that drink are more likely to drive under the influence, have unprotected sex, and use other drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Symptoms of alcohol abuse in teens include lying, breaking curfew, becoming verbally or physically abusive toward others, making excuses, smelling like alcohol, having mood swings, and stealing.
Alcohol QuizTake the Alcohol (Alcoholism) Quiz to learn how your alcohol is processed by your body and your brain.
Brain HemorrhageA brain hemorrhage is a type of stroke caused when an artery bursts in the brain, causing localized bleeding in the surrounding tissue. Causes of brain hemorrhage include aneurysm, liver disease, brain tumor, head trauma, high blood pressure, and blood vessel abnormalities. Symptoms and signs include sudden severe headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, tingling, numbness, vision changes, loss of consciousness, and loss of fine motor skills. Treatment depends upon the cause, location, and size of the brain hemorrhage.
Brain Lesions (Lesions on the Brain)A brain lesion is defined as an area of damaged brain. Brain lesions (lesions on the brain) are caused by trauma, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, cancers, other diseases, stroke, bleeding, pituitary adenomas, and cerebral palsy. Symptoms of brain lesions include headache, nausea, fever, neck pain and stiffness, affected vision and speech, and weakness or paralysis to one side of the body. Diagnosis of brain lesions is generally accomplished with imaging studies like CT or MRI scans. Treatment and prognosis of brain lesions depends on the cause of the lesion.
Brain PictureThe brain is one of the largest and most complex organs in the human body. See a picture of the Brain and learn more about the health topic.
10 Facts About the Amazing Brain QuizTake this brain quiz to learn about your amazing brain! It's the most complex part of your body, and is responsible for many functions, including how you behave!
Brain Injuries SlidesConcussions are a common type of traumatic brain injury. Read more about symptoms of a concussion, how to treat head injuries, and learn about tests used to diagnose concussions.
CT Scan vs. MRI
CT scan (computerized tomography) is a procedure that uses X-rays to scan and take images of cross-sections of parts of the body. CT scan can help diagnose broken bones, tumors or lesions in areas of the body, blood clots in the brain, legs, and lung, and lung infections or diseases like pneumonia or emphysema.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a procedure that uses strong magnetic fields and radiofrequency energy to make images of parts of the body, particularly, the organs and soft tissues like tendons and cartilage.
Both CT and MRI are painless, however, MRI can be more bothersome to some individuals who are claustrophobic, or suffer from anxiety or panic disorders due to the enclosed space and noise, the machine makes.
MRI costs more than CT, while CT is a quicker and more comfortable test for the patient.
EncephalopathyEncephalopathy refers to brain disease, damage, or malfunction. Learn about what causes encephalopathy as well as types, symptoms, stages, and treatment.
Seizures QuizDo you know the difference between seizures and epilepsy? What are the types of seizures? Take the Epilepsy & Seizures Quiz to test your knowledge and learn about this complex disorder of the brain.
What Is the First Aid for Seizures?Some seizures are caused by brain diseases, tumors, genetic conditions, or other illnesses or disorders that can be diagnosed (symptomatic seizures). When the cause for the seizures is unknown, they are referred to as idiopathic or cryptogenic seizures. If a person has a seizure, loosen the clothing around his/her neck and remove sharp objects around the person to prevent injury. After the seizure, lay the person on his/her side to maintain an open airway. If the seizure lasts more than five minutes or if the person cannot be awakened after the seizure, call 911. Learn common seizure triggers, including foods or medications, hormones, stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, or sensitivity to light.
Heat StrokeHeat stroke (heatstroke or sun stroke) is a form of hyperthermia. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency that can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated. Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, absence of sweating, hot red or flushed dry skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, strange behavior, hallucinations, confusion, agitation, disorientation, seizure, and coma. A victim of heat stroke must receive immediate treatment to avoid permanent organ damage.
What are the Risks and Complications of an Amygdalohippocampectomy?An amygdalohippocampectomy is a surgical operation to remove a portion of the brain as a treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy. The procedure involves the selective removal of certain portions of the brain’s temporal lobe. The temporal lobes are located beneath the temples on either side of the head.
Teen Drug Abuse SlideshowTeen drug abuse is a growing concern today. Learn statistics, facts, warning signs, and effects related to teen substance abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medications, prescription drugs, alcohol, illegal street drugs and more.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) for Seizures
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a technique used to treat epilepsy. It involves implanting a pacemaker-like device that generates pulses of electricity to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the 12 cranial nerves, the paired nerves that attach to the undersurface of the brain and relay information to and from the brain.
What Does a CT Head Scan Show?A computerized axial tomography (CAT) or computerized tomography (CT) scan uses a series of X-rays taken at different angles to produce a detailed image of the head and brain. A CT scan is done to study the patient’s skull, brain, jaw, sinuses, and facial bones, and to investigate tumors, head injuries, aneurysms, and other conditions.