Epilepsy Center

Epilepsy Symptoms

Physical changes may occur during a seizure, or a disruption of neuron transmission in the brain.  Some physical symptoms of a seizure include convulsions (an involuntary repetitive contraction of a muscle that lasts for a very short time and results in visible shaking of the body), changes in behaviour, emotions, or sensations.  Different seizure occurrences can result in different symptoms, because many symptoms accompany each category of seizure.

Earlier, we discussed different types epileptic seizures.  These different types of seizures result in different physical changes in the brain.  Let's take a look at these different types of seizures to understand common symptoms. 

Partial or focal seizures

1. Complex partial seizures exhibit the following symptoms:

    • Different facial expressions of emotions that are not triggered by a present or recent event
    • Difference in awareness
    • Moving the arms or rubbing hands without intending to
    • Swallowing without intending to
    • Staring 
    • Wandering

2.  Simple partial seizures exhibit the following symptoms:

    • Altered emotions
    • Changes in the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound
    • Dreamy state     
    • Involuntary muscle contraction that might imitate normal muscle movement   
    • Unprovoked emotion

Focal or partial seizures generally do not result in a loss of consciousness. However, it is important to note that during partial or focal seizures, any specific change in perception greatly differs from one person to the next.  That said, specific types of symptoms remain similar from one seizure to the next.  For example, a person who experiences arm twitches during one episode is likely to experience twitching during a subsequent episode.   It's also important to understand that these types of seizures generally do not result in a loss of consciousness.

Generalized seizures
Each type of generalized seizure is accompanied by a group of symptoms.  We'll discuss about each type of generalized seizure, in turn.

1. Absence seizures (petit mal):  Children are mostly affected by this type of generalized epilepsy, and often stare while making movements different than what they would normally do.  This can include changing the positions of their hands, smacking their lips, and other types of behaviour.  Awareness is affected. 

2.  Atonic seizures A atonic seizure results in a loss of muscle control, causing the person to fall to the ground which may result in injuring his/her body.  No loss of consciousness occurs, bit an atonic seizure generally occurs without notice.

3. Myoclonic seizures:  These seizures are characterized a sudden, incontrollable jerking of limbs, the mouth, and other parts of the body.  They happen only for a short period of time, but many cause a person to drop something, or to have their arms or legs to move up or down suddenly.

4. Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal): This type of seizure often comes to mind when people think of seizures.  People experiencing grand mal seizures will exhibit sudden, violent movement of the body and limbs, unconsciousness, headaches after the seizure, and loss of bladder control (involuntary urination) and bowel control (involuntary defecation) during or after the seizure. 


When to seek medical help
If a person experiences a seizure of the brain for the first time, then immediate medical attention is required for an evaluation.  People already diagnosed with epilepsy should also seek immediate medical attention if their symptoms are complicated by any of the following conditions: 

  • Change in the frequency of seizures
  • Change in the duration of seizures
  • Diabetes
  • Headache
  • Pregnancy
  • Symptoms of stroke

But what kind of doctor can diagnose epilepsy?  And what tests are needed?  Continue reading the next section to learn more about how to diagnose epilepsy.  We'll review what doctors look for when labeling seizures as epileptic or non-epileptic.  And we'll list the medical exams you can prepare as we answer the question how is epilepsy diagnosed in the Diagnosing Epilespy section that follows.


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