It’s Classified!

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Photo credit: Epilepsy Foundation

There are many different ways seizures present themselves.

To begin, let’s learn the “new” and most current terms and definitions. There are 3 different groups of seizures.

  1. Generalized onset seizures
  2. Focal onset seizures
  3. Unknown onset seizures

Generalized onset seizures include tonic-clonic (“older” term is grand mal), absence (“older” term is petit mal) and atonic seizures. Atonic seizures are also know as “drop attacks” or “drop seizures”.

How do generalized onset seizures present themselves?

Tonic-clonic are what most people think of when someone says the word seizure. Let’s face it, that’s pretty much all you see in movies and on TV.

A person’s muscles stiffen, they lose consciousness and fall to the floor. They begin to shake uncontrollably, and may lose control of their bladder. Tonic-clonic seizures usually last 1-3 minutes. As the person regains consciousness, they may be confused, sleepy and irritable. If a seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes 911 should be called.

Absence seizures begin and end abruptly. The person may stare or appear to be daydreaming. The person will recover immediately and often times these seizures are not detected for months.

There are two types of absence seizures:

1. Typical absence

A person may stop their activity, stare or their eyes may roll back in their head. These are the most common and last usually less than 10 seconds.

2. Atypical absence

An atypical absence may last longer and come on more slowly with different symptoms. Some of these symptoms include staring, changes in muscle tone and movement. The person my smack their lips, or make hand motions. Atypical seizures may last up to 20 seconds or longer.

Atonic seizures also known as drop attacks happen from loss of of muscle “tone.” Part or all of the person my go limp. A protective headgear my be needed since the person may fall to the floor. Atonic seizures my start in childhood and continue to adulthood.

Focal onset seizures present themselves in two different ways:

  1. Focal onset aware seizures, previously known as simple partial seizures. A person is awake and aware during the seizure.
  2. Focal onset impaired awareness, previously know as complex partial seizures. A person’s awareness may be affected or they may be confused during the seizure.

Finally, unknown onset seizures are when the beginning of a seizure is unknown. Often times these seizures are later diagnosed as focal or generalized seizures.

When you hear the word seizure or epilepsy, I always say, “People watch too much TV.” There is so much more to it.


Source: Epilepsy Foundation-Types of Seizures


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