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Seizure Without Loss of Consciousness

When you have a seizure with a loss of consciousness (unconsciousness), it is very obvious. When you are unconscious, you are not aware of what is going on and are not able to respond in your normal ways to things that happen to you.

Some types of seizures, such as partial or absence seizures, do not usually cause you to lose consciousness. The first few times you have partial or absence seizures, you (or a witness to the seizure) may assume that you are overly tired or stressed. When you have the same symptom again, you may realize that your symptom may be caused by a problem in your brain.

Seizure disorders are classified according to the area of the brain that is affected by the seizure. There are 2 main types of seizures.

  • Generalized seizures (absence and grand mal seizures) affect the entire brain. Generalized seizures include:
    • Tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. These are the most common type of seizure and usually cause sudden unconsciousness. The person falls, and the arms and legs stiffen. Jerking of the entire body follows. Other symptoms may include an initial high-pitched cry as air is forced through the vocal cords, tongue biting, and passing urine or stool without meaning to. Although the seizure seems long, it usually lasts no more than 5 minutes. Afterward, the person may be confused, sleepy, or uncooperative for a few minutes to several hours.
    • Absence (petit mal) seizures, which usually begin and end suddenly. The seizure usually lasts only a few seconds. These seizures include a brief period of unresponsiveness during which the person stares straight ahead. Sometimes the face muscles twitch. When the seizure stops, the person's prior activity may resume uninterrupted. The person may also be unaware that anything happened. Absence seizures are most common in childhood and may be to blame for a child's declining school grades. These seizures rarely begin after age 20.
  • Partial seizures (simple and complex partial seizures) affect specific areas of the brain. Partial seizures include:
    • Simple partial seizures, which can cause many problems ranging from changes in vision and smell to shaking of a specific part of the body. These seizures generally do not alter a person's level of consciousness. One type of simple partial seizure is the Jacksonian seizure, which begins with jerking of a finger, the corner of the mouth, or one foot. This leads to stiffening of the muscles on the same side of the body. A person may become unconscious or experience a grand mal seizure if a Jacksonian seizure gets worse or becomes generalized.
    • Complex partial seizures (psychomotor attacks), which often begin with a strange feeling or aura. The aura may include smells, sounds, vision changes, or an intense emotion such as fear or anxiety. After the aura, the person is less alert but not unconscious. Speech stops, and movements such as chewing, fidgeting of the hands, or other purposeless activities begin. After the seizure, the person may be confused for a short period of time and will not remember the episode.

Call your doctor to schedule a checkup if you have had symptoms that you think may be caused by seizures. Avoid activities (such as driving, operating machinery, climbing a ladder, or swimming) that may cause injury to yourself or others until you have been checked by your doctor.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised August 25, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 25, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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