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What are the symptoms of an epileptic seizure?

Jerome Engel, MD
Neurology

Epileptic seizures are usually brief events lasting seconds to a few minutes. They can take many forms, depending on the area of the brain involved. They can mimic virtually any behavior or experience that occurs normally, and many that do not. Focal seizures involve parts of the brain on just one side that are responsible for movement, sensation, psychic experiences and bodily functions. Examples include motor movements such as jerking of one hand or half the face; sensory experiences such as visual images of flashing lights, dizziness, smells or tastes; psychic experiences such as distorted memories, hallucinations and mood alterations (eg., depression, anger, fear); and body discomfort usually localized to the stomach, chest or head. When the epileptic activity spreads to the other side of the brain, conscious control is lost, which can cause involuntary, often inappropriate and bizarre behaviors that are not remembered after the seizure is over. Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain and range from brief loss of consciousness (absences, petit mal seizures) to the classical convulsions that begins with loss of consciousness and stiffening of both arms and legs, often accompanied by a cry and falling, followed by severe jerking on both sides of the body and then relaxation and unresponsiveness (generalized tonic-clonic convulsions, grand mal seizures). During these events, there may be loss of bladder and/or bowel control and tongue biting. Other generalized seizures may consist only of brief stiffening or brief jerks or sudden loss of tone with falling (drop attacks). Focal seizures can progress to generalized seizures. Focal seizures with sensory, psychic or bodily function experiences that progress to more severe behaviors are called auras, but they are actually epileptic seizures. Depending on the type of seizure and area of brain involved there can be focal disturbances or severe unresponsiveness after the seizure is over, lasting from a few minutes to many hours (the postictal state).

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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.