Different Types of Seizures

There are many different types of seizures with varying levels of severity. Some types of seizures are debilitating and life threatening, while others can be merely distracting. If you suspect you or someone you love has experienced a seizure, see a physician for a proper diagnosis.

The following are common types of seizures:

  • Petit Mal Seizures: Petit mal seizures are also referred to as "absence" seizures, since the most obvious characteristic of them is an absence of presence for a brief time. During a petit mal seizure, a previously alert person will suddenly become absent, staring into space, oblivious to what is happening. Attempts to talk to the person will be met with a blank stare. When the seizure ends, usually in less that 15 seconds, the person will return to normal, unaware of what happened during the seizure.
  • Grand Mal Seizures: This is the classic seizure people associate with epilepsy. Grand mal seizures, also called tonic-clonic seizures, cause a person to fall and thrash around with wild, jerking motions. The person will lose consciousness during the seizure and may drool, urinate or choke on his own tongue during the 5- to 20-minute episode. After the seizure, the person will be exhausted and need to sleep.
  • Myoclonic Seizures: Myoclonic seizures are the jerking of muscles or muscle groups, usually in the face, neck, shoulders and upper arms. These jerking motions can happen in isolated incidents or as chronic, repetitive episodes. Myoclonic seizures can occur in anyone and by themselves are not a sign of epilepsy.
  • Status Epilepticus: This is a grand mal seizure that lasts for more than 20 minutes. It is also a life-threatening episode for an epileptic. Immediate medical attention is required.
  • Partial Seizures: These seizures originate in a specific part of the brain, while all of the other types of seizures originate from large areas of the brain. Partial seizures may cause the person to smell unusual smells or taste things that are not really there. They can cause temporary paralysis, uncontrollable laughter, hallucinations or unexplained and repetitive behavior. The exact symptoms of these seizures depend on which the part of the brain is having an abnormal discharge. Partial seizures can be a symptom of epilepsy. In people without epilepsy, partial seizures should be discussed with a doctor, as they can signal a severe brain injury or the presence of a brain tumor.
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