Common Seizure Types

January 26, 2024
January 26, 2024
Common Seizure Types

Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological disorder, affecting 3.4 million people in the United State, and around 50 million worldwide according to the CDC.  Epilepsy is the diagnosis used when someone has two unprovoked seizures or one seizure with a risk for more.  During a seizure, a person will experience sudden electrical bursts of activity similar to an “electrical storm” in the brain that can cause recurrent and unprovoked seizures. 

There are many causes and different types of seizures.  Common causes can be a genetic disorder or a brain damage from illness or injury, but in many cases the cause may be unknown.  The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), doctors have discovered more than 30 different types of seizures.  A seizure can impact awareness, cognitive function, muscle control, movement, speech, or vision. These are usually brief, typically lasting only a few minutes, but can be scary for patients as well as their friends, families and caregivers.  

The way a seizure looks is usually dependent on the type of seizure a person may be having. Some seizures might only be staring spells, while other seizures can cause a person to fall, shake, and become unaware of what’s going on around them.

Two Main Categories of Seizures: Generalized and Focal

Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain while focal seizures begin in one area of the brain. (NIH, Image credit: Adobe Stock 8/17/2021)

1. Generalized: Generalized epilepsy is the term used when seizures begin on both sides of the brain. Generalized epilepsy is primarily genetic and is treated with medications.  For some patients who are not responding to medication a surgical procedure known as vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may be considered.

  •  Absence seizures previously referred to as petit mal seizures, can cause rapid blinking or a few seconds of staring into space and are more common in children. 
  • Tonic-clonic seizures, also called grand mal seizures, can make a person cry out, become stiff, have muscle jerks or spasms, lose consciousness, and fall to the ground.  

2. Localized (also known as partial onset or focal onset): Patients with localized epilepsy experience seizures that develop in a particular region of the brain.  

  • Typically, a seizure may start in one area and can spread across the brain causing mild symptoms such feeling of deja vu, sensing unusual taste or smell.  These are considered simple focal seizures.  
  • These simple focal seizures may continue to evolve to moderate symptoms such as staring, loss of awareness (but awake) lip smacking, pulling at clothes.  These are called complex focal seizures and a person may not be able to respond for a few minutes.  
  • Secondary generalized seizures also begin in one part of the brain, but then spread to both sides which may begin as a focal seizure but evolve into more severe symptoms such as full loss of consciousness, stiffening of the body, and full body convulsions.  
  • Localized epilepsy can be effectively treated with medication.  If the area of the brain where seizures start is identified and the patient has received a comprehensive work up, surgery may be an option to  remove, or intervene at, the region of the brain where the seizures start. There are three options for neuromodulation for epilepsy which include Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS Therapy), Deep Brain Stimulator (DBS) or Neuropace, also known as Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS Therapy).  

Learning as much as you can about seizures and your particular symptoms can help in identifying the type of seizures you may have.  In addition to a comprehensive work up, we will ask you several questions about how you felt before, during and after a seizure.  You may not always remember all the details that occurred, so it is helpful to have someone that was with you to write down what happened or use a seizure diary or seizure tracker.  If a video of the event can be recorded, that can be helpful as well.  

Looking to get treatment for seizures? Neura's epilepsy specialists are here to help. Start your membership trial so you can book a video appointment today!

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Diana Bannister, NP
Diana Bannister is a board certified nurse practitioner with expertise in the evaluation and treatment of people with epilepsy.
About the Author
Diana Bannister is a bi-lingual Acute Care Nurse Practitioner specializing in epilepsy disorders. She previously worked at Texas Neurology in Dallas where she practiced general neurology, and focused on epilepsy, women with epilepsy and epilepsy surgical candidates. She has worked with patients with RNS and VNS implants. Her career began in 2000 in the Intensive Care Units at Baylor University Medical Center until she began working as an ACNP In 2011. She graduated from University of Texas at Arlington with her Master of Science in Nursing, where she received the designation of Acute Care Nurse Practitioner She is board certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and licensed by the State of Texas to provide patient-centered care to patients spanning adolescence to geriatric populations.

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