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Seizures (Epilepsy) Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Types, and Treatment

Reviewed on 12/11/2019

What Is the Medical Definition of Seizure?

Picture of Epilepsy Symptoms
Epileptic Seizures Can Produce Many Different Symptoms

A seizure is uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, which may produce

  • a physical convulsion,
  • minor physical signs,
  • thought disturbances, or
  • a combination of symptoms.

What Are the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Seizures?

Signs and symptoms of seizures range from jerking movements in a single extremity to abnormal movements throughout the entire body. Some seizures may cause

  • lip smacking,
  • behaviorisms,
  • staring spells, or
  • other symptoms depending on in which area of the brain the seizure cause originates.
  • Seizures may affect bladder and bowel control, and a person experiencing a seizure often bites his or her own tongue.

What Causes Seizures?

Abnormal electrical activity in the brain triggers seizure activity. A person may have a seizure disorder (epilepsy) and require medications. Other factors such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is a diabetic reaction, may cause seizures. Meningitis or a head injury may also cause a seizure. Fainting can also cause a series of jerking movements as the person loses consciousness. These movements do not necessarily indicate a seizure.

What Should You Do If Someone Near You Has a Seizure?

  • During and after the seizure, attempt to keep the person on his or her side to allow fluid to drain from the mouth.
  • If the person falls, immobilize the head and neck.
  • Beware of vomiting and turn the person to his or her side to prevent the inhalation of vomit into the lungs.
  • After the seizure stops, allow the person to rest.
  • A seizure often causes confusion and drowsiness for a period of minutes to hours.

When Should You Call a Doctor for a Seizure?

Go to your nearest Urgent Care or Emergency Department immediately

  • if it is a first-time seizure,
  • if the person is injured,
  • stops breathing,
  • has multiple or continuous seizures without regaining consciousness, or
  • if the seizure lasts longer than 10 minutes in someone known to have seizures.

Finding the person's current medications is helpful for medical evaluation and treatment.


If you have had a seizure, it means you have epilepsy. See Answer

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Generalized Seizures in Epilepsy

Epilepsy that causes generalized seizures is more common in children than in adults. Unlike partial seizures, which begin in a specific, often damaged area in the brain, generalized seizures cannot be traced to a specific location or focus. The abnormal electrical activity that causes seizures begins over the entire surface of the brain. And these seizures tend to affect the entire body.

Epilepsy that causes generalized seizures may have no known cause (idiopathic), or it may result from another condition (symptomatic). Drug therapy is the usual treatment approach. But surgery may be helpful in some cases.

Reviewed on 12/11/2019
Ko, DK, et al. Epilepsy and Seizures. Medscape. Updated: Oct 08, 2018.