Types of Seizures

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. People are diagnosed with epilepsy when they have had two or more seizures. 

There are many types of seizures. A person with epilepsy can have more than one type of seizure.

The signs of a seizure depend on the type of seizure.

Sometimes it is hard to tell when a person is having a seizure. A person having a seizure may seem confused or look like they are staring at something that isn’t there. Other seizures can cause a person to fall, shake, and become unaware of what’s going on around them.

Seizures are classified into two groups.

  1. Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain.
  • Absence seizures, sometimes called petit mal seizures, can cause rapid blinking or a few seconds of staring into space.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures, also called grand mal seizures, can make a person
    • Cry out.
    • Lose consciousness.
    • Fall to the ground.
    • Have muscle jerks or spasms.

The person may feel tired after a tonic-clonic seizure.

  1. Focal seizures are located in just one area of the brain. These seizures are also called partial seizures.
  • Simple focal seizures affect a small part of the brain. These seizures can cause twitching or a change in sensation, such as a strange taste or smell.
  • Complex focal seizures can make a person with epilepsy confused or dazed. The person will be unable to respond to questions or direction for up to a few minutes.
  • Secondary generalized seizures begin in one part of the brain, but then spread to both sides of the brain. In other words, the person first has a focal seizure, followed by a generalized seizure.

Seizures may last as long as a few minutes.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control. Updated 7/2017.