What Does a Seizure Feel Like?

Reviewed on 5/12/2022

What Is a Seizure?

Illustration of a brain undergoing a seizure
Symptoms of seizures may include sustained rhythmical jerking movements (clonic), tense or rigid muscles (tonic), brief muscle twitching (myoclonus), epileptic spasms, muscle weakness or limpness (atonic), repeated automatic movements, staring spells, changes in sensation, changes in thinking or cognition, mood changes, changes in autonomic functions, and lack of movement.

A seizure is a sudden surge of abnormal electrical activity in the brain that usually affects how a person appears or acts for a short time. Seizure signs and symptoms differ from one type of seizure to another, and they fall under three major groups.

Generalized onset seizures affect both sides of the brain at the same time. 

  • Includes seizure types like tonic-clonic, absence, or atonic 
  • Generally, a person loses consciousness and does not feel anything while the seizure occurs
  • They will not remember what occurred during the seizure

Focal onset seizures (formerly called simple partial seizure) can start in one area or in one side of the brain. 

  • Focal onset aware seizures occur when a person is awake and aware of what occurs during a seizure 
    • A person will remember what occurred during the seizure
    • Depending on the part of the brain in which the seizure starts, focal onset aware seizures can feel like: 
      • A “rising” feeling in the stomach 
      • Déjà vu
      • Unusual smell or taste
      • A sudden intense feeling of fear or joy
      • Like a “wave” going through the head
      • Stiffness or twitching in part of the body (such as an arm or hand)
      • Numbness or tingling
      • An arm or leg feeling bigger or smaller than it actually is
      • Visual disturbances such as colored or flashing lights
      • Hallucinations 
  • Focal onset impaired awareness seizures (formerly called a complex partial seizure) occur when a person is confused or awareness is affected during a focal seizure 
    • A focal onset impaired awareness seizures can feel like: 
      • Confusion
      • Inability to understand what is said to them or be able to respond to others 
      • Reacting abnormally to others
      • It may be difficult to tell when the seizure ends and the person may not remember the seizure afterwards
      • A person may feel tired and want to rest after the seizure

What Are Symptoms of a Seizure?

Symptoms of seizures may include:

  • Motor symptoms 
    • Sustained rhythmical jerking movements (clonic)
    • Tense or rigid muscles (tonic)
    • Brief muscle twitching (myoclonus)
    • Epileptic spasms (body flexes and extends repeatedly)
    • Muscle weakness or limpness (atonic) 
    • Repeated automatic movements (automatisms), such as clapping or rubbing of hands, lip smacking, chewing, or running
  • Non-motor symptoms (absence seizures) 
    • Brief twitches that can affect a specific body part or just the eyelids
    • Staring spells
    • Changes in sensation
    • Changes in thinking or cognition
    • Mood changes
    • Changes in autonomic functions (such as gastrointestinal sensations, waves of heat or cold, goosebumps, heart racing, etc.)
    • Lack of movement (behavior arrest)

What Causes Seizures?

Causes of seizures can vary by age.

Causes of seizures in newborns include:

  • Lack of oxygen during birth
  • Malformations of the brain
  • Low blood levels of sugar, calcium, magnesium, or other electrolyte problems
  • Metabolic problems 
  • Intracranial bleeding
  • Maternal drug use 

Causes of seizures in infants and young children include:

Causes of seizures in children and adults include:

  • Congenital conditions 
  • Head trauma
  • Genetics
  • Progressive brain disease (rare)

Causes of seizures in seniors include:


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How Are Seizures Diagnosed?

Before your doctor decides on a treatment plan for your seizures, the cause must first be determined.

Tests used to diagnose the cause of seizures include: 

What Is the Treatment for Seizures?

Seizure treatment will vary depending on the type of seizures the person experiences as well as the condition that causes them.

3 Main Seizure Treatment Types

Treatment for seizures usually involves: 

  • Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs)
  • Diet therapy, such as the ketogenic diet
  • Epilepsy surgery 
    • Removal of a small part of the brain that's causing the seizures 
    • Implantation of a small electrical device inside the body to help control seizures

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Reviewed on 5/12/2022
Image Source: iStock Images