Knowing Epilepsy "The Community"
Types of Seizures

     Topic: Types of Seizures

Q: What are partial seizures?

     Partial seizures (formerly known as focal seizures) with elementary symptomology are often referred to a simple partial. During this type of seizure the patient can experience a range of strange or unusual sensations including sudden, jerky movements of one body part, distortions in hearing or seeing, stomach discomfort, or a sudden sense of fear. Consciousness is not impaired. If another seizure type follows, these sensations may be referred to as an "aura".

Q: What are complex partial seizures?

     Complex-partial seizures (formerly psychomotor or temporal lobe Epilepsy) are characterized by a complicated motor act involving impaired consciousness. During the seizure the patient appears dazed and confused. Purposeless behaviours such as random walking, mumbling, head turning, or pulling at clothing may be observed. Usually, these so-called "automatisms" cannot be recalled by the patient. In children this seizure may consist of staring or lip-smacking, and therefore may be confused with the absence seizure described below.

Q: What are absence (petit mal) seizures?

     Generalized absence seizures (formerly petit mal) are characterized by 5 to 15 second lapses in consciousness. During this time the patient appears to be staring into space and the eyes may roll upwards. Absences are not preceded by an aura and activity can be resumed immediately afterwards. Typically, they occur in children and disappear by adolescence. They may, however, evolve into other seizure types, such as complex-partial or tonic-clonic. The occurrence of absences in adulthood are rare.

Q: What are tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures?

     The tonic-clonic (formerly grand mal) seizure is a generalized convulsion involving two phases. In the tonic phase, the individual loses consciousness and falls, and the body becomes rigid. In the clonic period, the body extremities jerk and twitch. After the seizure, consciousness is regained slowly. If the tonic-clonic seizure begins locally (with a partial seizure) it may be preceded by an "aura". These seizures are said to be secondarily generalized.

     While the tonic-clonic seizure is the most visible, obvious type of Epilepsy, it is not the most common. Partial seizures are more frequently encountered and occur in 62% of all Epilepsy patients. Complex-partial seizures account for approximately 30% all cases.

Q: What are other types of seizures?

     Benign rolandic epilepsy is an epileptic syndrome occurring in young children that is age limited (you stop having seizures in the teen  years) . Salivation, twitching of the mouth or upper extremity on one side are typical manifestations. Seizures occur almost exclusively nocturnally.

     Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is an epilepsy characterized by onset in childhood or adolescence and is associated with extremity jerking or generalized tonic clonic seizures ('grand mal') within an hour or two of wakening from sleep. Seizures which may be precipitated by sleep deprivation, alcohol intake or coffee (strange) tend to occur in the morning.

Q: What are "status" seizures?

     Status epilepticus is the term used to describe recurrent seizure without recovery of consciousness between attacks. This is a medical emergency and can be life threatening, or cause brain damage. Immediate action to get the necessary medical care should be taken.

Q: What are nonepileptic seizures?

Nonepileptic seizures, or NES for short, have physical or physcological cause rather than a neurological cause as in Epilepsy. Also known as: non-organic seizures, non-epileptic attack disorder, non-epileptic attacks, nonepileptic events, psychogenic seizure, pseudoseizures.

The term 'pseudoseizures' but this term is unhelpful as it suggests that the person is not having real seizures or that the seizures are 'put on'. 

For people who have non-epileptic seizures, the seizures are very real and are not 'put on'. People who have NES are not usually able to control the seizures. NES cannot be treated in the same way as epileptic seizures. Instead, they are often treated by mental health specialists.

NES can happen to anyone, at any age. 

For more information, please see:

Q: Can seizures occur if a person does not have Epilepsy?

     Yes. They are called nonepileptic seizures. They have either a physical or physcological cause. -Whereas Epilepsy is a chronic condition of recurrent unprovoked seizures. In physiological non-epileptic seizures there is a physical cause such as fainting, heart condition or diabetes. In psychogenic seizures, on the other hand, there is an emotional or pyshological reason.

Q: What are Epileptic seizures like?

     The nature of the seizures varies depending upon the type of Epilepsy the individual has. Some seizures may be very noticeable while some may go completely unrecognized. With the most common types of seizures there is some loss of consciousness, but some seizures may only involve small movements of the body or strange feelings. The different seizures types have certain characteristics that accompany them.

Q: What does it feel like to have a seizure?

     Epilepsy is a broad classification for a wide variety of seizures, so different people's seizures can be very different. Common feelings associated with seizures include uncertainty, fear, physical and mental exhaustion, confusion, and memory loss. Some types of seizures can produce visual and auditory phenomena, while others can involve a "blank" feeling. If a person is unconscious during a seizure there may be no feeling at all. Many people also experience an "aura" before the seizure itself.

Q: How long do the seizures last?

     Depending on the type of seizure, they can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. In rare cases, seizures can last many hours. For example, a tonic-clonic seizure typically lasts 1-7 minutes. Absence seizures may only last a few seconds, while complex partial seizures range from 30 seconds to 2-3 minutes. "Status Epilepticus" refers to prolonged seizures that can last for many hours, and this can be a serious medical condition. In most cases, however, seizures are fairly short and little first aid is required.

Q: Is there such a thing as a "minor" case of Epilepsy?

     There are over 30 types of seizures, and some types are more severe than others. Long tonic-clonic convulsions, for example, can produce more physical and mental effects than shorter partial seizures. Some people may experience very frequent seizures (every few hours), while others can go for months or years without a seizure. Also, some seizures are easily controlled by drug therapies, while others may continue regardless of the medication that is tried.

Pleases contact your local Epilepsy association or clinic for additional information. Other seizure terms include: Atonic (Drop Attacks), Myclonic, Infantile Spasms, Nocturnal, Photosensitive, Visual, Musicogenic, Jacksonian, Sensory, Bilateral Myclonus, Atkinetic, Autonomic, Prolonged seizures, and Ictal State. 

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