What Exactly Is a Seizure?

Reviewed on 12/16/2021

A seizure occurs when a person experiences a sudden surge of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This can affect a person for a short period of time, and cause symptoms such as  rhythmic jerking movements (clonic), muscle weakness or limpness (atonic), tense or rigid muscles (tonic), brief muscle twitching (myoclonus), staring spells, and others.
A seizure occurs when a person experiences a sudden surge of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This can affect a person for a short period of time, and cause symptoms such as rhythmic jerking movements (clonic), muscle weakness or limpness (atonic), tense or rigid muscles (tonic), brief muscle twitching (myoclonus), staring spells, and others.

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.

There are three major types of seizures:

  • Generalized onset seizures
    • Affect both sides of the brain at the same time
    • Includes seizure types like tonic-clonic, absence, or atonic 
  • Focal onset seizures
    • Focal seizures can start in one area or in one side of the brain
    • Focal onset aware seizures occur when a person is awake and aware during a seizure (formerly called simple partial seizure)
    • Focal onset impaired awareness seizures occur when a person is confused or awareness is affected during a focal seizure (formerly called a complex partial seizure)
  • Unknown onset seizures
    • Occur when the beginning of a seizure is not known, such as if it’s not witnessed by anyone
    • An unknown onset seizure may later be diagnosed as a focal or generalized seizure

What Are Symptoms of Seizures?

Depending on the type of seizure, symptoms may include:

  • Motor symptoms 
    • Sustained rhythmic jerking movements (clonic)
    • Muscle weakness or limpness (atonic) 
    • Tense or rigid muscles (tonic)
    • Brief muscle twitching (myoclonus)
    • Epileptic spasms (body flexes and extends repeatedly)
    • Repeated automatic movements (automatisms), such as clapping or rubbing of hands, lip smacking, chewing, or running
  • Non-motor symptoms (absence seizures) 
    • Staring spells
    • Brief twitches that can affect a specific body part or just the eyelids
    • Changes in sensation
    • Mood changes
    • Changes in thinking or cognition
    • 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:

  • Malformations of the brain
  • Lack of oxygen during birth
  • Metabolic problems 
  • Low blood levels of sugar, calcium, magnesium, or other electrolyte 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 
  • Genetics
  • Head trauma
  • Progressive brain disease (rare)

Causes of seizures in seniors include:

How Are Seizures Diagnosed?

Tests used to diagnose the cause of seizures include: 

What Is the Treatment for Seizures?

Treatment for seizures usually involves: 

  • Medicines called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs)
  • Diet therapy, including 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 12/16/2021
References
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https://www.epilepsy.com/