Types of Seizures


A seizure is a symptom of a brain problem. It is caused by a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. Symptoms vary depending on what part of the brain is involved. Seizures may cause uncontrollable muscle spasms or convulsions, or they may have very mild symptoms. Sometimes they result in unconsciousness.

The Facts

  • Over 2 million Americans have a seizure disorder. It can occur at any time in your life. You don't have to be diagnosed with epilepsy to have a seizure. Epilepsy means that you are having multiple seizures, but an isolated seizure can be brought on by fever, drug withdrawal or blood sugar imbalance. They may last only a couple of seconds or several minutes.


  • If you begin having seizures, your doctor will make an effort to find out the cause. Seizure disorders may be caused by head trauma, including brain injuries or lack of oxygen at birth. Other conditions can sometimes cause seizures, such as brain tumors, lead poisoning or infectious illnesses such as meningitis or encephalitis. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 7 out of 10 cases of epilepsy have no known cause.


  • The two main types of seizures are partial seizures and generalized seizures. Partial or focal seizures begin in a limited part of the brain. Partial seizures can be either simple or complex. A simple partial seizure doesn't affect memory while a complex partial seizure may affect behavior, as well as awareness and memory before and after the seizure. Generalized seizures involve larger areas of the brain. These are divided into sub-types, including grand mal, petit mal and myoclonic. For more detailed information on types of seizures, see The Neurology Channel under resources.


  • Symptoms of seizures vary depending on what part of the brain is involved. Most seizures involve twitching or shaking, but some seizures only involve staring spells. If you have a seizure, you may experience changes in vision, such as flashing lights. You may experience a metallic or bitter taste in your mouth. You may be aware of muscle tension or tightening.


  • If you see someone else have a seizure, try to protect him from injury. Roll him on his side to prevent him from inhaling vomit. Stay calm and remove sharp objects that may be nearby. Most seizures will stop by themselves. Medical professionals will want to know how long the seizure lasted and what parts of the body were affected.

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