Seizures and epilepsy are often used interchangeably but mean two different things. A seizure is a single episode and epilepsy is characterized by unpredictable and unprovoked seizures that can cause other health problems. The difference between the types of seizures is how and where they begin in the brain.
Seizures are typically described in two broad groups: primary generalized seizures and partial seizures. Primary generalized seizures are produced by electrical impulses from both sides of the brain at once. This group can be broken down further depending on the person’s symptoms. Partial seizures are produced by electrical impulses in a limited area of the brain. Partial seizures can be further broken down to whether or not the person loses consciousness or awareness.
There are 6 types of generalized seizures.
Tonic-clonic seizures, also formerly called grand mal seizures, are the most common type of seizure and the symptoms are the “classic” seizure symptoms that most people know. This type of seizure affects adults and children. The first phase is the tonic phase. In this phase, all the muscles stiffen and the patient may lose consciousness and fall down. During the second phase, the clonic phase, the patient experiences a rhythmic jerking of the arms and legs. Tonic-clonic seizures generally last 1 to 3 minutes. Emergency medical attention is required if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
Absence seizures or petit mal seizures causes a blank stare (blanking out or staring into space) that may or may not have an upward rotation of eyes. This seizure can interrupt activities but is so brief (10 to 20 seconds or less) that it can frequently escape detection. This type of seizure is seen more commonly in young children through adolescence.
Myoclonic seizures involve brief muscle contractions of the face, trunk, or extremities, bilaterally (occurring on both sides of the body at the same). Th person is usually awake during a myoclonic seizure. Myoclonic seizures occur in a variety of epilepsy syndromes that have different characteristics.