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Types of Seizures

Updated on March 31, 2008


Seizures happen when your nerve cells fire much more rapidly and with less control than usual. Seizures can affect your movements, senses, concentration, ability to communicate, and your consciousness.

After most types of seizures, even brief ones, you may feel confused for some time.

Most epileptic seizures are either partial seizures, which affect one part of the brain, or generalized seizures, which affect both sides of the brain simultaniously.

Seizures differ in many ways, both in the form and in the way they make you feel. Some people experience only one type of seizure; others experience more than one type, or a combination. Below, you'll find brief descriptions of the different seizure types.

Complex Partial Seizure Brain Scan
Complex Partial Seizure Brain Scan

Partial Seizures

Partial seizures, also called focal seizures, only affect one part of the brain, and are the most common type of seizure. They can stimulate your emotions and senses, interfere with awareness, hinder the ability to communicate, make the body move, interfere with and create perceptions, and produce vivid hallucinations that you can either see or hear.

Sometimes a partial seizure will trigger a generalized seizure (see below).

Simple Partial Seizures

During a simple partial seizure, you remain conscious, even though you may not be able to move or communicate. Parts of the body may move, twitch, or shake. You may feel nauseated. Your skin may flush, go pale, or get goose bumps. Your own body, and the things and the space around you, may seem warped and unfamiliar, and you may experience sensations, sights, sounds, smells, and tastes caused only by your seizure.

You may feel a powerful sense of déjà vu. You may also have a burst of extreme emotion, which-however wonderful or wrenching or scary it may seem at the time-is just another part of your seizure.

When the seizure is over, since you have been conscious the entire time, you will remember the even clearly.

Complex Partial Seizures

During a complex partial seizure, also known as temporal lobe epilepsy or psychomotor epilepsy, your eyes may stay open and you may move around, but you'll more than likely be unconscious. If you can speak, your words are unlikely to make sense. You will be unable to control how you move or what you say and do.

A complex partial seizure may begin with a blank stare and a loss of consciousness and continue through a number of events, some of which may include mumbling and other movements of the mouth; mechanical, repetitive activities; wandering around or going through seemingly routine tasks; talking or crying out; disturbed reactions, as if you were having a nightmare; and various agitated motions-all just part of your seizure.

When you emerge from a complex partial seizure, you will have no memory of what has taken place.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain at the same time from the time the seizure begins. You lose consciousness-often for a short time, but sometimes for much longer.

Absence Seizures

An absence seizure (also known as petit mal) can happen so quickly that it can sometimes go unnoticed. Absence seizures begin suddenly and end suddenly, without any prior warning or aftereffect. You experience a sudden-but fleeting-loss of awareness, sometimes accompanied by staring.

Absence seizures are more commonly experienced by children, though adults also have them. With some absence seizures your eyelids or facial muscles will twitch, or certain muscles may go slack. When an absence seizure lasts longer than usual, automatic movements can also occur.

Atonic Seizures

During an atonic seizure (also known as a drop attack, an astatic seizure or an akinetic seizure), some of your muscles suddenly go limp. Your head may fall to your chest, your legs buckle, your posture slip and droop; you may even collapse. Because there's no warning-and no time to position yourself or prevent a fall-you may hit your head or face. Atonic seizures are not easy to control with medicines. If you are subject to atonic seizures, you may need to wear headgear to protect yourself from injury.

Myoclonic Seizures

During a myoclonic seizure, your muscles contract rapidly for a brief time. You make sudden jerking motions on both sides of your body or sometimes in one foot or arm. While you probably will not need first aid, you should see a healthcare professional if you've just had a myoclonic seizure for the first time.

Tonic-Clonic Seizures

During a tonic-clonic seizure (also known as grand mal or convulsions), you stiffen (the tonic phase) and your limbs and face begin to jolt and shake (the clonic phase). During the tonic phase, your breathing may slow down or even pause. In a typical tonic-clonic seizure, when the convulsive movements begin, breathing returns. The jerking and jolting of the clonic phase often lasts less than a minute.

Tonic-clonic seizures occur in different ways. Some people experience only the initial stiffening; others experience only the jerking motions. For some people, a tonic-clonic seizure may begin with an atonic seizure.

The muscles that control continence may be among those that contract and relax rapidly during the clonic phase. Although you may bite your tongue or parts of your mouth during a tonic-clonic seizure, you cannot "swallow your tongue" as some myths insist.

After a tonic-clonic seizure, you may feel confused and thoroughly exhausted; you may also have a headache. Your body and your brain will need rest. Expect it to take a little while-from a few minutes to some hours-to feel entirely yourself again.

If breathing does not return quickly after the tonic phase, if a seizure goes on for more than 5 minutes, or if another seizure or series of seizures follows the first, you will need emergency medical care.

Tonic Seizures

Tonic seizures tend to involve stiffening of the muscles.You may notice a person having a tonic seizure, may have his arms raised over his head and a grimace on his face. If standing, a person has a tonic seizure, he may lose his balance and fall. Usually, you will experience a tonic seizure while sleeping.

For the most part, tonic seizures won't knock you out, like tonic-clonic seizures, but if you experience multiple within a short period, you may feel tired.

This type of seizure involves most, if not all, of the brain and both sides of the body. Usually tonic seizures only last about 20 seconds.

Nonepileptic Seizures

Some people have brief episodes that resemble epileptic seizures, yet they are not caused by electrical disturbances in the brain. Although sometimes difficult for an observer to distinguish from a true epileptic seizure, these nonepileptic seizures have nothing to do with epilepsy.

Status Epilepticus

Most seizures are brief. But when your seizures go on for too long or come in clusters, you are at risk for a condition called status epilepticus-an ongoing state of seizure or multiple seizures with continued loss of consciousness. If this happens to you, you will need emergency treatment. If you're identified to be at risk for status epilepticus, work with your healthcare professional to ensure that you have a plan of action in place that will get you immediate treatment in case of a seizure emergency.


I am not a doctor, physician, or specialist. The information that I have provided is from personal research. For more information, always ask your neurologist for help.


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    • loveofnight profile image


      6 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      It seems as if you covered it all, I had no idea that there were that many different types of seizures....thx 4 share

    • profile image


      9 years ago


      Does anyone have a young child around 3 years old with an abnormal EEG that they are unsure about Benign Rolandic vs. Complex Partial vs. other types of seizures? They are unsure what type my son has and they started Trilyptal meds on him. He is extremely hyperactive and out of focus on the meds and we are getting an MRI this week and a second opinion regarding his abnormal 24 hour EEG. He also has had 5 breathholding episodes as a child now and had seizures with those too. I'm looking for someone to talk to and see if anyone else has seen this. He is having symptoms similar to stare spell seizures, but not the same brain waves for them. He is having seizures all day that we didn't even know were occuring so it is hard to start meds, but they feel it is nessesary. I am really confused as to what is really going on with my child! He has had sleep and neuro problems since birth. We are hoping the MRI is negative for any abnormalities such as a brain tumor, but we would like answers as to why he is having all the seizure activity in his Right Parietal region of the brain.

      Kim (a confused mom)


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