Understanding Epilepsy -- Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on October 28, 2023
2 min read

Seizures are the basic indicator of epilepsy. They vary widely:

  • Staring straight ahead, repetitive swallowing, and lapsing into complete immobility for a few seconds characterize absence seizures, which can recur many times in a day.
  • Tonic/clonic (grand mal) seizures, which usually last several minutes, typically begin with a loss of consciousness and a fall, followed by rigidity, then jerking motions, and incontinence of urine. After the seizure ends, there is usually a period of confusion and deep sleep.
  • Repetitive lip smacking, aimless fiddling movements, and a sense of detachment from surroundings may indicate temporal lobe seizures. They may be preceded by a vague feeling of abdominal discomfort, visual/sensory hallucination, and distorted perceptions such as deja-vu (a feeling of familiarity or having seen something before).
  • Motor or Jacksonian seizures start with localized rhythmic twitching of muscles in a hand, a foot, or the face, which may spread to the whole body. Such seizures are often followed by a period of weakness or paralysis.


  • You experience a seizure for the first time or have never seen a doctor for your seizures.
  • One seizure follows another without a return to consciousness; the brain could be deprived of oxygen. Call 911 or your emergency number immediately.
  • You're experiencing side effects from anti-seizure (anticonvulsant) medication. Your doctor may want to check your blood levels of the medication and then make adjustments in the dose or try an alternative drug.
  • Your anti-seizure drugs are not fully controlling seizures.
  • You have seizures and are pregnant or trying to conceive.