What are the symptoms of epilepsy and seizures?
Epilepsy symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. Usually, the patient has the same type of seizure with each episode.
Sometimes called an electrical storm in the brain, seizures are caused by abnormal brain activity and can affect any activity that the brain processes. Although seizures can affect any part of the body, the exact location of the electrical event, the amount of brain affected, and how long it lasts determine the seizure’s impact on the patient.
Seizure signs and symptoms can include:
- Temporary confusion
- Staring blankly for a few seconds
- Stiff muscles
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Psychological symptoms such as fear, anxiety or deja vu
- Fatigue after the seizure ends
Many people with epilepsy have a trigger that occurs before their seizures. A trigger occurs fairly consistently and happens more often than just by chance. It’s helpful for patients to identify their triggers and let their family and work colleagues know what they are. This helps others know how to protect and help you during a seizure. Reflex epilepsy causes seizures in response to a specific trigger, such as flashing lights, noises or other stimuli. By knowing your triggers, you can find ways to avoid them or lessen their impact.
Try these suggestions to help identify your triggers. With every seizure, be sure to:
- Write down the time of day, type of seizure, how long it lasted, conditions that occurred just before the seizure, and how you felt. Ask those who observed it to provide information that you weren’t able to observe.
- Make note if your previously identified triggers were present before the seizure.
- Write down every time a suspected trigger event happens if you think it might be a trigger. By noting every time it occurs, not just when you have a seizure, you can discover a pattern of specific events and determine which ones are true triggers for you.
What happens in the brain during a seizure?
Seizures are not a disease, but a symptom of many different diseases and disorders. The brain produces electrical activity that is caused by chemical changes in the brain’s nerve cells. Brain cells can start or stop other brain cells from sending messages. During a seizure, there’s too much or too little activity, leaving the brain unbalanced. Chemical imbalances cause a surge in electrical activity that produces a seizure.
Are there different types of seizures?
Yes, seizures are classified based on where the abnormal brain activity begins. A focal seizure occurs in only one area of the brain; generalized seizures affect all areas of the brain.
Focal seizures that don’t cause loss of consciousness, also called simple partial seizures, can cause altered emotions, change the way things look, smell, taste, feel or sound, or cause deja vu. Uncontrollable jerking of one body part, tingling, dizziness and flashing lights can also occur.
Focal seizures that cause impaired awareness, also called complex partial seizure, can feel like being in a dream. You may not respond normally to your environment, and have repetitive movements such as chewing, swallowing, rubbing your hands, or walking in circles.
Generalized seizures are classified into six types:
- Absence seizures (previously called as petit mal seizures) typically occur in children. The child may stare into space, and may or may not have subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking. They last about 10 seconds. These seizures may occur in clusters, happening as often as 100 times per day, and cause a brief loss of awareness.
- Tonic seizures cause stiff muscles and may affect consciousness. They can cause a fall and usually affect back, arm and leg muscles.
- Atonic seizures, also known as drop seizures, cause a loss of muscle control, usually in the legs, causing a sudden collapse or fall.
- Clonic seizures can cause rhythmic, jerking muscle movements, usually in the neck, face and arms.
- Myoclonic seizures usually cause sudden brief jerks or twitches in the upper body, arms and legs.
- Tonic-clonic seizures, previously called grand mal seizures, are the most dramatic type, causing a sudden loss of consciousness and body stiffening, twitching and shaking. They may also cause the patient to bite their tongue or lose bladder control.