About Seizures

A seizure is a change that happens to a person’s body or behavior because of unusual electrical activity in the brain. A seizure disorder is a condition where recurring seizures are a symptom. A person with a seizure disorder may feel just as healthy as everyone else most of the time, but sometimes he or she has a seizure. Epilepsy is a term that may be used in place of the term seizure disorder.

How a doctor may diagnose a seizure disorder

A doctor may diagnose a person with a seizure disorder or epilepsy when he or she has any of the following:

  • Two or more seizures that happen on their own more than 24 hours apart
  • A seizure that happens on its own with a strong chance of another seizure occurring
  • A diagnosis of an epilepsy syndrome
Seizure disorders affect more than three million Americans of all ages1

Types of seizures

Partial seizures, also called partial-onset or focal seizures, occur in a specific area in the brain. They are the most common type of seizure.

  • Simple partial seizure—a type of seizure in which the unusual electrical activity is limited to a specific area in the brain, and the person remains conscious or aware during the seizure
  • Complex partial seizure—a type of seizure in which the unusual electrical activity is limited to a specific area in the brain, and the person loses or has impaired consciousness

Generalized seizures, such as tonic-clonic seizures, affect both sides of the brain from the beginning of the seizure.

  • Secondarily generalized seizure—a seizure that begins as a partial seizure, in a specific area of the brain, but then spreads throughout the brain
  • Tonic-clonic (formerly called grand mal)—the most common type of generalized seizure. In the tonic phase, the limbs stiffen. During the clonic phase, the limbs and face make jerking movements

Seizure Disorder Resources

Mayo Clinic
Comprehensive overview of epilepsy, including symptoms, causes and treatment.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Research has made great progress in the past 10 years. Find a list of organizations and publications devoted to seizure disorders here.

National Institutes of Health
Read about the latest clinical trials, including those recruiting participants.

U.S. National Library of Medicine/Medline Plus
Seizure-related topics for women, children and teens.

Further resources are available to help people living with seizure disorders. Contact your state, county or local government to see how they can help.

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