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.
Seizures occur in girls and boys at an equal rate and are more common before the age of 15 and after age 65. Inherited seizures are more likely to occur in girls. Seizures occurring after head trauma are more likely in boys. For now, there is no way to screen for a seizure disorder before it develops. However, avoiding head injuries -- such as by wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle -- can reduce the risk of acquiring a seizure disorder.
Seizure disorders are classified according to the area of the brain
that is affected by the seizure. There are 2 main types of seizures.
(absence and grand mal seizures) affect the entire brain. Generalized seizures
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
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.
Primary Medical Reviewer
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
August 25, 2011
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
August 25, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
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