There’s a number of types of seizures, but here’s a short list of the most common with common descriptions (every person is unique!), in case you’re concerned in a child, friend, or loved one. Seizures are divided into partial and generalized. Partial means they affect only part of the brain, whereas generalized affect the entire brain. There are usually medications that can treat these seizures.
- Simple Partial: It’s simple because you don’t lose consciousness. They can be motor (have muscle movements of a limb, for example), sensory (see weird things, have weird smells), autonomic (heart rate or breathing rate changes) or psychic (feeling deja vu).
- Complex Partial, aka Partial Complex, aka Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: They’re complex, because the person loses consciousness. People will blank out, maybe smack their lips, fumble with their hands, pick at their clothing, or blink their eyes sometimes. These can “secondarily generalize,” which means they can start with this seizure type, and then have a full shaking seizure. Complex partial seizures often have auras–the person can tell they’re about to have a seizure by seeing something in their vision, having a muscle tightness, a feeling of stomach fullness, weird smell, or almost anything else.
- Absence Seizures, aka Petit Mal: These start in kids. This is the kid in class that, out of nowhere, will just stare blankly into space, like they’re daydreaming, and then snap out of it in less than a minute. Many times they’re diagnosed with attention problems, when they’re actually having seizures. They lose consciousness, but immediately go back to whatever they’re doing, and don’t even necessarily realize they’ve had a seizure. (They’ll just pick up their conversation where they stopped, for instance.)
- Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizures, aka Grand Mal: Your classic Hollywood seizure. Starts with the tonic portion (increased tone), where the person arches their back, straightens their arms out, and is very rigid. Then the clonic part starts–more medical speak for the rhythmic jerking of the muscles.
- Febrile Seizures: These are like the above GTC seizures, but only in kids 6 months to 5 years old, and associated with a fever. Two-thirds of kids with one febrile seizure won’t have another, so neurologists usually don’t treat unless the child has more than one. (Once you have more than one, you have a pretty good chance you’ll have more.)