What are the symptoms of epilepsy?
Jerome Engel, MD

Although we consider epilepsy to be a disease, it is actually many different diseases with different causes and different symptoms. The paramount symptom that defines an epilepsy disease is the occurrence of epileptic seizures. There are also many different types of epileptic seizures, and diagnosis of the types of focal and generalized seizures help to diagnose specific epilepsy syndromes. Routine brain-wave tests (electroencephalograms – EEGs) often reveal abnormalities that help to identify the seizure types and, at times, the specific epilepsy syndromes. If necessary, patients can be admitted to a specialized epilepsy center for in-patient video-EEG monitoring in order to more definitively diagnose their seizure type(s). Other features that help to define the type of epilepsy include the presence of structural abnormalities in the brain as seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the age of onset of the epileptic seizures, other neurological, mental or behavioral disturbances, a family history of epilepsy and response to specific antiseizure (antiepileptic) drugs. For some patients, the most disabling symptoms are the seizures, but for others it can be the neurological, mental, and behavioral, symptoms between seizures, which may be due to an underlying disease process, seizures, or the antiseizure-drug treatment. The social limitations and stigma associated with epilepsy are also major causes of disability. The most serious symptom of epilepsy is sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), which occurs, for reasons that are not yet fully understood, in one-out-of-200-to-300 patients with epilepsy per year. People with epilepsy also die prematurely from accidents, prolonged seizures that do not stop (status epilepticus) and suicide due to a high prevalence of depression in people with epilepsy compared to the general population. The occurrence of SUDEP in patients with epileptic seizures that are not controlled by antiseizure drugs may be as high as one-out-of-100 patients per year, and the death rate in patients with uncontrolled seizures may be 10 times greater than that of the general population. Thus, epilepsy can be a life-threatening disease, especially if not adequately treated.

Seizure disorders, also known as epilepsy, can cause a wide range of symptoms, some mild and some severe. There are over 30 different kinds of seizures and they can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Contrary to popular belief, not all seizures involve a person collapsing and having violent convulsions.

A seizure is caused by a malfunction in the brain's nerve cells (neurons), and the symptoms often depend on how long that malfunction lasts and how much of the brain is affected. For example, the symptoms of some relatively minor seizures that affect just one part of the brain could include momentary confusion, hallucinations, unusual emotions or sensations, nausea, or the involuntary jerking of an arm or a leg. More severe seizures that involve more of the brain can involve such symptoms as loss of consciousness, convulsions, loss of muscle control, or involuntary repetitive movements. Other common symptoms of seizures include staring into space; stiffening the muscles in the back, legs, and arms; and experiencing dreamlike feelings of altered consciousness. Some people with epilepsy experience unusual feelings that warn the person that a seizure is about to happen. These sensations are known as auras and are actually a type of localized seizure themselves.

Having witnessed a loved-one with epilepsy have several Grand Mal seizures, the following are some symptoms: incoherent/slurred speech (from biting their tongue), nausea, dizziness, frequent urges to use the bathroom, headache, and loss of appetite. Her seizures were triggered by not taking her medication (a missed dosage), stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue. I hope this helps

Continue Learning about Epilepsy & Seizures Warning Signs & Symptoms

Epilepsy & Seizures Warning Signs & Symptoms

Epilepsy & Seizures Warning Signs & Symptoms

Seizures can be sporadic and unpredictable, making it hard to determine when one might occur. A person may experience an aura, such as a visual hallucination or strange smell at the beginning of the seizure. Other warning signs fo...

r a seizure include staring spells, loss of awareness and body stiffness or tingling. Whatever your specific seizure experience, it's important to keep track and discuss all your epilepsy symptoms with your doctor or neurologist.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.