Epilepsy & Seizures Warning Signs & Symptoms
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Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. In most cases, an individual with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be very similar from episode to episode, but some individuals have many different types of seizures, with different symptoms each time.
Doctors will classify seizures as either partial or generalized, based on how the abnormal brain activity begins. When seizures appear to result from abnormal activity in just one part of the brain, they are called partial or focal seizures. Seizures that seem to involve all of the brain are called generalized seizures. In some cases, seizures can begin in one part of the brain and then spread throughout the rest of the brain. Seizures may progress from partial to generalized.
Simple partial seizures: Simple partial seizures do not result in loss of consciousness. These seizures may alter emotions or change the way things look, smell, feel, taste, or sound.
Complex partial seizures: Complex partial seizures alter consciousness, causing the individual to lose awareness for a period of time. Complex partial seizures often result in staring and non-purposeful movements, such as hand rubbing, lip smacking, arm positioning, vocalization, or swallowing.
Generalized seizures involve epileptic activity in all or most of the brain.
Absence seizures (petit mal): Absence seizures are characterized by staring, subtle body movements, and brief lapses of awareness.
Myoclonic seizures: Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden jerks of the arms and legs.
Atonic seizures: Atonic seizures are also known as drop attacks and may cause the individual to suddenly collapse or fall down.
Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal): Tonic-clonic seizures are the most common form of generalized seizures. They are also the most widely recognized epileptic seizure. In a tonic-clonic seizure, the person loses consciousness, the body stiffens, and then they fall to the ground. This is followed by jerking movements. After a minute or two, the jerking movements usually stop and consciousness slowly returns.
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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.