Epilepsy: Types and Symptoms

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing recurrent seizures or periods of unusual behaviour, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.

Updated: January 7, 2018

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing recurrent seizures or periods of unusual behaviour, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.
Abnormal movements or behaviour due to unusual electrical activity in the brain are known as seizures which is a symptom of epilepsy. But not all people who appear to have seizures have epilepsy. Epilepsy is a group of related disorders characterised by a tendency for recurrent seizures. Non-epileptic seizures are called as pseudoseizures which may be caused by psychological issues or stress. These are not accompanied by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Normal EEG readings and lack of response to epileptic drugs will help differentiating non-epileptic seizures from epileptic seizures. These types of seizure may be treated with psychotherapy and psychiatric medications.

Types of Seizures:

There are two main types of seizures. Generalized seizures affect the whole brain. Focal, or partial seizures, affect just one part of the brain.

Focal seizures:

When seizures appear as a result of abnormal activity in just one area of your brain, they are called focal or partial seizures. These seizures are of two types.

Focal seizures without loss of consciousness:

These seizures are called simple partial seizures and do not cause a loss of consciousness. They may change the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound. They may also alter emotions. Involuntary jerking of a body part, such as an arm or leg, and spontaneous sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness and flashing lights are the symptoms of these kind of seizures..

Focal seizures with impaired awareness:

These seizures are called complex partial seizures and involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. During this kind of seizure, you may stare into space and not respond normally to your environment or perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles.
Focal seizures symptoms may be confused with other neurological disorders, such as migraine, narcolepsy or mental illness. To distinguish epilepsy from other disorders, a  thorough examination and testing are required.

Generalized seizures:

Seizures that appear to affect the whole brain are called generalized seizures. There are six types of generalized seizures. These include:

Absence seizures:

This often occur in children.These seizures may occur in clusters and cause a brief loss of awareness and are characterized by staring into space or subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking.

Tonic seizures:

Tonic seizures cause stiffening of your muscles usually in your back, arms and legs and may cause you to fall to the ground.

Clonic seizures:

Clonic seizures are associated with repeated or rhythmic, jerking muscle movements. These seizures usually affect the neck, face and arms.

Atonic seizures:

Atonic seizures, also known as drop seizures, cause a loss of muscle control, which may cause you to suddenly collapse or fall down.

Tonic-clonic seizures:

This can cause an abrupt loss of consciousness, body stiffening and shaking, and sometimes loss of bladder control or biting your tongue.

Myoclonic seizures:

Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden brief jerks or twitches of your arms and legs.

Symptoms of Epilepsy:

The main symptom of epilepsy are seizures. Symptoms vary depending on type of seizures and person to person. In most cases, a person with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode.

Focal or partial seizures:

A simple partial seizure does not involve loss of consciousness. Symptoms include:

  • alterations to sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing, or touch
  • dizziness
  • tingling and twitching of limbs

Complex partial seizures involve loss of awareness or consciousness. Other symptoms include:

  • staring blankly
  • unresponsiveness
  • performing repetitive movements

Generalized seizures:

Generalized seizures involve the whole brain. Symptoms include:

  • stiffening of the body
  • shaking
  • loss of bladder or bowel control
  • biting of the tongue
  • loss of consciousness

Following a seizure, you might feel slightly ill for a few hours or you may not remember having one.





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