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Epilepsy - Symptoms

Seizures are the only visible symptom of epilepsy. There are different kinds of seizures, and symptoms of each type can affect people differently. Seizures typically last from a few seconds to a few minutes. You may be alert during the seizure or lose consciousness. You may not remember what happened during the seizure or may not even realize you had a seizure.

Seizures that make you fall to the ground or make the muscles stiffen or jerk out of control are easy to recognize. But many seizures do not involve these reactions and may be harder to notice. Some seizures make you stare into space for a few seconds. Others may consist only of a few muscle twitches, a turn of the head, or a strange smell or visual disturbance that only you sense.

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If someone has a seizure for the first time, if a seizure lasts longer than two to three minutes, or if multiple seizures occur one after the other, take him or her to the emergency room or call 911 immediately. If a seizure disorder is suspected, the doctor will begin by taking a thorough medical history, including any birth trauma, serious head injury, or infections of the brain, such as encephalitis or meningitis. Brain function can be "viewed" with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, which detects...

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Epileptic seizures often happen without warning, although some people may have an aura at the start of a seizure. A seizure ends when the abnormal electrical activity in the brain stops and brain activity begins to return to normal. Seizures may be either partial or generalized.

Partial seizures

Partial seizures begin in a specific area or location of the brain. The most common types of partial seizures are:

  • Simple partial seizures.Simple partial seizures do not affect consciousness or awareness.
  • Complex partial seizures.Complex partial seizures do affect level of consciousness. You may become unresponsive or may lose consciousness completely.
  • Partial seizures with secondary generalization. Partial seizures with secondary generalization begin as simple or complex partial seizures but then spread (generalize) to the rest of the brain and look like generalized tonic-clonic seizures. These two types can easily be confused, but they are treated differently. Most tonic-clonic seizures in adults begin as partial seizures and are caused by partial epilepsy. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures are more common in children.
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