Your brain comprises billions of neurons – nerve cells that process and transmit information by interacting with each other. These interactions can be observed and assessed through an electroencephalogram (EEG).
Most neuron interactions occur with few disruptions. Occasionally, small neuron misfires may occur with little consequences. Yet sometimes multiple cells misfire at the same time – depending on the severity and location in the brain. This is a seizure: a sudden, disorganizes electrical discharge in the brain causing muscle twitches and spasms, changes in sensation, mood, behavior or thought, or altered consciousness.
Epilepsy vs Seizures
A seizure is a single occurrence, whereas epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by two or more unprovoked seizures.
Types of Seizures and Epilepsy
Learn more about diagnosis of epilepsy and various types of seizures, including
- Focal seizures and focal epilepsy
- Generalized seizures
- Myoclonic seizures
- Tonic and clonic seizures
- Tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures
- Epilepsy syndromes in children, including benign Rolandic epilepsy
Learn More About Common Seizures
Some of the common types of seizures are described below.
Generalized Tonic Clone Seizures (Grand Mal Seizures)
Generalized Tonic Clonic, or Grand Mal seizures, are what most people think of when they hear about seizures. Although it may seem very long, most grand mal seizures last less than two minutes.
During Grand Mal seizures, the patient loses awareness, manifests a tightening and contraction of all the muscles of the body, groans, and may show labored respirations. This is followed by a jerking of muscles which gradually slows down and stops, leaving the patient in an exhausted and unarousable state for several minutes. This state of exhaustion is referred to as the post-ictal state.
Generalized Grand Mal seizures are physically violent and could result in falls and injury. If you are witnessing such a grand mal event, it is important to lay the patient on a flat surface and place them on his or her side.
Do not attempt to open a seizing person’s mouth as this is more likely to injure you or the patient or result in aspiration of the object into their lungs. A common myth about grand mal seizures is that the patient may “swallow their tongue.” This never occurs.
Absence seizures are also known as “petit mal” seizures. These are more common in children and consist of brief episodes of staring. Unlike Grand Mal seizures, they are often brief (five to 20 seconds) and occur multiple times each day. Children with absence seizures may be mistakenly thought to be “daydreamers” in school. 50 to 70 percent of patients “outgrow” absence seizures by late adolescence.
Partial (Focal) Seizures
Partial seizures are one of the most common types of seizures which involve a part of the brain. Most often they arise from the temporal lobe, however, they can also begin in the frontal, occipital and parietal lobes. The patient may cease their activity, stare, engage in semipurposive activity like lip smacking, chewing, swallowing, picking at their clothes or other objects.
They may or may not interact with or be aware of their surroundings. This may result in confusion, combativeness or wandering about, putting them at risk for sustaining injuries. As an observer, it is important that one maintain a cool and calm demeanor while preventing the patient from experiencing any harm.
If they spread to involve a large enough area of the brain, partial seizures can turn into a generalized tonic-clonic seizure. So it is possible for a patient to have both types of seizures.