You are here

Types of seizures

Not all epileptic seizures are the same

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by repeated seizures. Epileptic seizures are a result of abnormal electrical activity in part or all of the brain.

There are many types of seizures, and some people may experience more than one type. The kind depends on which part and how much of the brain is affected by the electrical disturbance that produces seizures.

Main seizure types

Primary generalized – Affects the whole brain from onset, most often alters consciousness.

  • Tonic-clonic – Formerly "grand mal," associated with falling, stiffening of limbs then repeated jerking.
  • Absence – Formerly "petit mal," most common in children, associated with blank staring, blinking, twitching. Mistaken for daydreaming, lack of attention.
  • Atonic – Sudden loss of muscle tone, falling, head drop.
  • Myoclonic – Sudden involuntary muscle jerks that may be mild or throw person to the floor.

Partial – Also called focal epilepsy, it begins in one part of the brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common type.

  • Simple – Consciousness usually retained. Movements, emotions, sensations and feelings can be affected.
  • Complex – Seizures present with alteration of consciousness. Associated with aura (or warning – most typical is sensation in stomach), automatisms (repetitious movements such as lip smacking, chewing, picking at clothes, fumbling), wandering, mild to moderate confusion and agitation, seizure amnesia.
  • Secondary generalized – Partial seizure that spreads to entire brain and intensifies.

Non-epileptic – Episodes of psychological origin not related to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. May briefly change a person's behavior and look like epileptic seizures.