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Epilepsy seizure symptoms

A person with epilepsy may experience a pattern of seizures and the type of seizure and epilepsy symptoms will depend on the type of epilepsy and the part of the brain affected.

A feeling or warning sign that a seizure is on its way may be experienced. These are called auras but are actually simple partial seizures.

Any seizure lasting longer than 5 minutes is a medical emergency and an ambulance should be called.

Generalised seizures

Tonic-clonic seizure

A tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure is the most common type of seizure and starts with symptoms of stiffness followed by leg and arm twitching. The person loses consciousness and may wet themselves.

Partial or focal seizures:

Only part of the brain is involved, so only part of the body is affected. Depending on the part of the brain having abnormal electrical activity, symptoms may vary.

  • If the part of the brain controlling movement of the hand is involved, for example, then perhaps only the hand may show rhythmic movements or jerking.
  • If other areas of the brain are involved, symptoms might include strange sensations or small repetitive movements such as picking at clothes or lip smacking.
  • Sometimes the person with a partial seizure appears dazed or confused. This may represent a partial complex seizure. The term complex is used by doctors to describe a person who is between being fully alert and unconscious.

Absence or petit mal seizures:

These are most common in childhood.

  • Impairment of consciousness is present with the person often staring blankly.
  • Repetitive blinking or other small movements may be present.
  • Typically, these seizures are brief, lasting only seconds. Some people may have many of these in a day.
  • Other seizure types exist, particularly in very small children.

Myoclonic jerks

Myoclonic jerks cause the arms, legs or upper body to jerk or twitch for fractions of a second, usually while the person is conscious.

Clonic seizure

Clonic seizures are similar to myoclonic jerks but last longer and may involve the person losing consciousness.

Atonic seizure

With atonic seizures, all the person's muscles relax with the chance of falls.

Tonic seizure

With tonic seizures, all the person's muscles become stiff, sometimes causing a loss of balance and falls.

Status epilepticus

A status epilepticus seizure or series of seizures lasts longer than 30 minutes and involves the person losing consciousness and not regaining consciousness in between the series of seizures.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 10, 2017

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