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Seizure Symptoms

Seizures can be partial or generalized.

Grand mal seizure symptoms include a loss of consciousness. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Grand mal seizure symptoms include a loss of consciousness.

Seizure Symptoms

Seizure symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure a person is experiencing. A seizure is caused by a disruption in electrical activity within the brain, often within the cerebral cortex. Patients who suffer from recurrent seizures are typically diagnosed with epilepsy. About 5 to 8 people in every 1,000 are diagnosed with epilepsy, and more than 4 million Americans are estimated to be living with some form of that condition. Epileptic seizures can occur either as a result of a neurological disorder or brain abnormality, or seemingly without any cause. Seizures without a known cause are called idiopathic seizures.

Types of Seizures

Seizures are categorized as either partial seizures or generalized seizures. Partial seizures, also called focal seizures, involve just one part of the brain. Generalized seizures result from abnormal activity in the entire brain. A seizure may begin as a partial seizure and progress to a generalized seizure. Generalized seizures include grand mal, petit mal, myoclonic and atonic seizures.

Classic Symptoms of a Seizure

A simple partial seizure causes an alteration in the senses or emotions, but the patient remains lucid. A complex partial seizure causes a loss of awareness. During a complex partial seizure, the patient typically stares and moves without purpose.

Grand mal seizures are the most severe and are characterized by loss of consciousness, shaking and stiffening of the entire body, and sometimes a loss of bladder control. Petit mal seizures have few symptoms. This type of seizure typically causes staring and a brief loss of awareness. Myclonic seizures cause sudden jerking of the legs and arms, and atonic seizures are also referred to as drop attacks because they cause the patient to fall suddenly.

Treating Seizure Symptoms

The Epilepsy Foundation recommends the following tips for aiding a person with seizure symptoms:

  • Time the seizure
  • Don't attempt to restrain the person or stop movement
  • Move any hard or sharp objects that are nearby
  • Loosen any clothing that might constrict the neck
  • Place a pillow or piece of clothing underneath the head
  • Turn the person onto his or her side to keep the airway clear
  • Do not put your fingers or an object into the person's mouth. It is impossible to swallow the tongue during a seizure.
  • Attempt artificial respiration only if the person does not begin breathing again following the seizure
  • Allow the seizure to end naturally and stay with the person until he or she regains consciousness
  • Make sure the person has a ride home


No first aid is necessary for non-convulsive seizures other than making sure the person stays away from dangerous situations, such as traffic or a flight of stairs. A person having a non-convulsive seizure could struggle against a restraint, so only touch the person if you need to lead him or her away from potential danger.

When to Call a Doctor

Patients who have been diagnosed with epilepsy typically don't need to see a doctor following every seizure. The Mayo Clinic recommends calling a doctor if the following occur:

  • It is the first seizure
  • The length of the seizure exceeds 5 minutes
  • Recovery is abnormally slow
  • The person immediately experiences another seizure
  • Episodes of seizures become more frequent or severe
  • The patient has diabetes or is pregnant
  • Weakness or numbness, confusion, vision loss, speech problems or loss of coordination occurs following the seizure
  • The patient feels differently before or after the seizure than he or she has felt during previous episodes

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