Epilepsy and Seizures

Types of Epileptic Seizures

Seizures can happen in many ways, depending on which part of the brain is affected, and are given different names. Below we have described what happens during each type of seizure so you can identify which type you or your loved one is experiencing:

  • Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal) – uncontrolled jerking and shaking of the whole body (a “fit”) that lasts about 1 to 3 minutes and afterwards you will feel confused
  • Absence (Petit Mal) – a blank stare, sometimes with blinking or chewing motion, these seizures usually only last a few seconds
  • Impaired Awareness (Complex Partial) – staring or dazed look on face; unaware of what is going on or do not remember what happened; might perform random repetitive movements and not be able to talk properly, usually lasts about 1 to 2 minutes and followed by feelings of confusion
  • Focal Onset (Simple Partial) – Jerking in one or more parts of the body or strange sensations e.g. a "rising" feeling in the tummy, unusual smells or tastes, or a tingling feeling in arms or legs
  • Atonic (Drop Attacks) – collapse and recovery in under a minute
  • Myoclonic – sudden, brief jerks involving all or part of the body
Seizure type
Focal-onset seizures/partial seizures Seizures that start in one side of the brain
Primary generalised Seizures that affect both sides of the brain from the start
Refractory seizures Seizures that are difficult to control with epilepsy medicines
Secondary generalisation/secondary generalised seizures Focal seizures that spread to both sides of the brain, causing generalised seizures

Call for an ambulance if someone:

  • Is having a seizure for the first time
  • Has a seizure that lasts more than five minutes
  • Has a lot of seizures in a row
  • Has breathing problems or has seriously injured themselves

Triggers of Epileptic Seizures

Often seizures seem to happen randomly. If possible, it is important to understand what causes seizures in individual patients to help you to control your epilepsy and reduce the number of seizures you have.

Commonly reported triggers are:

  • Not taking epilepsy medication as prescribed
  • Certain times in the day, such as waking up in the morning
  • Lack of sleep or overtiredness
  • Stress
  • Fevers or other illness
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Not eating well or low blood sugar
  • Certain foods or excess caffeine
  • In women, monthly periods or other hormonal changes
  • Flashing bright lights or patterns (this is an uncommon trigger)