There are 2 main types of seizures:

1Focal Seizures

  • These are seizures that start in one part of the brain
  • They are brief in length, typically lasting a few seconds to less than 2 minutes
  • They are the most common type of seizures

There are 2 subtypes of focal seizures: 

Focal Onset Impaired Awareness Seizures (Complex Partial Seizures)

  • You will likely lose consciousness and awareness of surroundings
  • May make nonpurposeful movements
  • Memory may be affected during or after the seizure

Focal Onset Aware Seizures (Simple Partial Seizures)

  • You may stay conscious, but you will likely be less aware of surroundings
  • May seem like you are “spacing out”
  • May affect your emotions, senses, muscle movement, and/or nervous system

2Generalized Seizures

  • These seizures start in both sides of the brain
  • Person may lose consciousness and experience shaking, muscle contractions, or loss of muscle tone
  • These types of seizures have many different subtypes, which have different characteristics and vary in how long each seizure subtype lasts
  • Sometimes a seizure may start on one side of the brain and spread to involve both sides. These are called focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures. This is different from a generalized onset tonic-clonic seizure, which starts on both sides of the brain

Different Kinds of Generalized Seizures

A seizure that causes a sudden loss of consciousness (or a blackout). The person may just stare into space.

A seizure that causes a sudden loss of muscle strength, causing a person to go limp. The person may drop things or fall, possibly causing injury. Atonic seizures are also called “drop attacks” or “drop seizures.”

A seizure that causes muscles to go back and forth between tightening and relaxing. The person may make jerky movements with their arms or legs.

A seizure that causes brief, shock-like jerks. The person usually has muscle jerks at the same time.

A seizure that causes muscles to contract strongly and become intensely stiff. The person may fall if standing when the seizure starts.

The seizures that most people think of as epilepsy.

  • First, during the tonic part, the muscles of the body tighten strongly and may cause the person to fall
  • Then, during the clonic part, arms and legs jerk in a repeated pattern
  • Other symptoms during the seizure include: crying out, biting the tongue or cheek, difficulty breathing, pale skin, and losing bladder control