What are the different types of seizures?

By Lisa Marinelli Smith
NeuLine Health

If you asked people to explain what a seizure is, most likely, they’d describe someone experiencing muscle convulsions, falling to the ground and losing consciousness. 

But seizures range in duration and characteristics, from someone looking like he’s lost in thought to another person coping with uncontrollable jerking movements on both sides of his body. 

Neurons in the brain create electrical and chemical signals that allow them to communicate with other neurons, glands and muscles. This, in turn, produces thoughts, feelings and actions. Epileptic seizures occur when nerve cells or neurons send mixed up electrical signals to each other much more rapidly than normal.

This miscommunication leads to disruptions throughout the body that can cause: 

  • Involuntary movements
  • Loss of awareness
  • Odd sensations
  • Uncontrollable emotions
  • Unusual behaviors

Two main categories of seizures 

Neurologists divide epileptic seizures into two major categories: 

  • Focal seizures – Also called partial seizures, these happen in one part of the brain. 
  • Generalized seizures – Abnormal activity on both sides of the brain.

Overall, most seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes and do not cause lasting harm. If seizures last longer than five minutes or if a person has multiple seizures and does not wake up between them, it’s considered a medical emergency.

Focal Seizures

About 60% of people with epilepsy have focal seizures, which start in one area of the brain. Symptoms vary, depending on where in the brain the seizure begins. 

Sometimes people are alert and able to interact during a seizure, known as focal onset aware seizures. These symptoms include: 

  • Deja vu (feeling like you’ve done something before)
  • Hallucinations 
  • Intense feelings of fear or joy 
  • Numbness, tingling 
  • Rising feeling in the stomach (like descending on a rollercoaster)  
  • Stiffness or twitching in one part of the body 
  • Unusual taste or smell 

Other times, people are not alert or aware of their surroundings during a seizure, known as focal onset impaired awareness seizures. Symptoms include: 

  • Blank stare as if daydreaming 
  • Complicated actions, which may seem purposeful but are not
  • Involuntary movements like rubbing hands, smacking lips, chewing, bicycling legs, blinking

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures occur because of abnormal electrical activity on both sides of the brain. 

Symptoms of generalized seizures include: 

  • Biting the cheek or tongue 
  • Convulsions, where muscles become stiff, shake and contract
  • Jaw clenching
  • Lack of muscle tone and going limp 
  • Loss of bladder control 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Staring into space with or without muscles twitching

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Epilepsy is diagnosed after a person has two or more unprovoked seizures separated by at least 24 hours. An unprovoked seizure doesn’t have an identifiable cause. 

If a seizure can be traced to a medical issue, such as high fever, nervous system infection, acute traumatic brain injury, stress or fluctuations in blood sugar or electrolyte levels, it’s not an epileptic seizure. 

Neurologists rely on EEGs, which measure the brain’s electrical activity, to help them diagnose epilepsy. NeuLine Health gives patients the option to schedule at-home, ambulatory EEGs, which typically last 72 hours, rather than checking into an epilepsy monitoring unit at a hospital or clinic. 

With our streamlined approach, doctors and patients can often receive a faster diagnosis than an inpatient clinic can provide. 

For more information about our at-home, ambulatory EEGs, call NeuLine Health at (844) 212-5321 or visit our website.


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