Epilepsy: Understanding Seizures

Learn to recognize the different types of seizures and when you should seek medical attention.

Epilepsy: Understanding Seizures

By Danielle Cronquist Published at Last Tuesday Views 1,017

The only visible sign of epilepsy is seizures, but many seizures don’t look like you think they would. Seizures occur when there are abnormal electrical disturbances in the brain. There are two main categories of seizures, focal and generalized, and sub categories of each of these types. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a seizure so that you can get the proper medical treatment or know how to help someone when they are seizing.

Focal seizures

Focal seizures occur in only a limited area of the brain. There are two different types of focal seizures:

  • Simple focal seizure (also known as a simple partial seizure) Less than 15% of people with epilepsy have this type of seizure. During a simple focal seizure memory and cognitive abilities are unimpaired, but there is generally temporary paralysis, visual changes, or difficulty with simple movements.
  • Dyscognitive Seizure More than 33% of those with epilepsy have dyscognitive focal seizures. They often cause mental confusion, loss of memory, and loss of awareness during the seizure. To an onlooker, the person may look dazed or unaware.

Generalized seizures

A generalized seizure affects both sides of the brain. More than 30% of people with epilepsy will experience generalized seizures. There are six different subcategories of these.

  • Absence seizure (also known as petit mal seizure) An absence seizure leaves the person briefly unaware of their surroundings and actions. They generally stare blankly until the seizure is over and may exhibit subtle, repetitive body movements.
  • Atonic seizure (also known as a drop seizure) During an atonic seizure a person will lose control of their muscles and due to this will generally fall or collapse
  • Clonic seizure Routinely experienced rhythmic and repeated jerking movements generally occur during a clonic seizure. The most commonly affected areas are the neck, face, and arms.
  • Myoclonic seizure Like a clonic seizure, a myoclonic seizure manifests itself as jerking movements or twitches in the arms and legs, but will occur very suddenly.
  • Tonic seizure During a tonic seizure, muscles in the affected area (generally arms, legs, and/or back) will tighten and stiffen. The person will often fall to the ground due to the rigidity of their muscles.
  • Tonic-clonic seizure (also known as grand mal seizure) A tonic-clonic seizure is one of the most severe as the person will lose consciousness, experience violent shaking and body stiffening, and may lose bladder control or bite their tongue during the seizure.

When to see a doctor?

Having a seizure does not mean that you are epileptic. 1 in 100 Americans will have an unprovoked seizure in their lifetime. Experiencing 2 or more seizures is generally required before you can be diagnosed with epilepsy. Once you are diagnosed, you will not need to see a doctor after every seizure you have, but should keep a record of them so that you can report the frequency and severity of your seizures to your doctor during appointments. However, there are some times when you should seek medical help immediately:

• A first-time seizure
• If you injure yourself during a seizure
• A seizure that lasts more than three minutes
• Failing to regain consciousness or not breathing after a seizure
• A high fever in addition to seizures
• If you are a diabetic
• If you are pregnant
• A second seizure immediately after the first
• Seizure caused by heat exhaustion

Seek medical help if you are experiencing seizures. Epilepsy is a very treatable disease, but should be monitored carefully by you and your doctor.

For more on epilepsy:

Epilepsy at Work: To Tell or Not to Tell?
Adjusting Expectations to Meet the Reality of Epilepsy
Could an Epilepsy Diet Help You?

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