What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Seizure?

The symptoms of a seizure depend on the part of the brain generating the extra electrical activity. Symptoms can vary in intensity and may be subtle (like staring into space) or intense (such as full body shaking).

Types of Generalized Seizures

During a generalized seizure, the surge of electrical activity affects the whole brain. There are several types of generalized seizures, including:

Generalized tonic-clonic seizure. During this type of seizure, a child will suddenly lose consciousness, fall to the floor (if standing) and stiffen. The child’s arms and legs will shake. The child may turn blue or pale, bite the tongue, or urinate. This type of seizure usually lasts one to five minutes. Often the child will be sleepy after the seizure and want to rest.

Absence seizure. A child will stare with a glazed look, often accompanied by blinking, chewing and facial twitching, and does not realize what is happening. When the seizure ends, the child is immediately alert. These seizures typically only last for a few seconds and may happen several times throughout the day.

Myoclonic seizures. A child will have sudden jerks of muscle groups. One or more part of the body jerks suddenly and briefly.

Atonic seizures. With these seizures, certain muscles of the body will go limp, leaving the child at a high risk for falling. These are sometimes called "drop seizures.”

Types of Partial Seizures

Partial seizures are caused by excess electrical activity in only one part of the brain. The electrical activity may stay in one area or travel to other areas of the brain (also called secondary generalization).

A simple partial seizure varies from child to child. It can involve movement (jerking one part of the body), abnormal sensation, loss of bowel or bladder control, or an emotional sensation called an “aura” where the child can sense that a seizure is coming. The area of the body affected depends on what part of the brain is affected. During simple partial seizures, the child always stays alert and aware.

A complex partial seizure may look similar to a simple partial seizure, but will always involve loss of awareness. The child may have a simple partial seizure (starting in just one part of the brain) that spreads to a different area of the brain and causes a loss of awareness. You may see the child lip smacking, picking at clothes, wandering, making chewing motions, or it may suddenly become hard to understand the child’s speech. Both types of partial seizures typically last only for a few minutes.

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