Have you cared for patients with seizure disorders?  This is a great post by Jessica from www.ViveHealth.com with all of the basics that you need to know about seizures. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the diagnosis and treatment of seizures. 

Seizures: Causes, Symptoms, and Types

A seizure is sudden, uncontrolled and instant abnormal activity or electrical disturbance in the brain that can cause the whole body to freeze for a short interval. Most people think seizures are synonymous with convulsions, but that’s not always the case. They can be mild enough to virtually go unnoticed or severe enough to cause shaking of the whole body and unconsciousness.

Most seizures go away between a few seconds to two minutes, and may cause no lasting harm. However, a medical emergency should be sought if a patient experiences multiple seizures in quick succession and doesn’t regain senses, or a seizure lasts longer than five minutes.

Seizures usually go as fast as they come and mostly happen just once. However, when they happen over and over, this condition is known as a seizure disorder or epilepsy, which is a brain condition caused by certain nerve cells that misfire. This, however, is very uncommon and only one in ten people who experience seizures has epilepsy. There are dozens of different types of epilepsy, and each can cause different types of seizures.


Depending on the type, the signs and symptoms of seizures range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms include momentary confusion, fits, uncontrollable shaking of the body – especially arms and legs - and unconsciousness. There are also a few emotional symptoms of seizures that include anxiety, fear, Deja Vu, and hallucination.

Causes of Seizures

More often than not, the cause of the seizure is unknown, but some known causes include:

  • Underlying conditions such as stroke, cancer, brain tumors, etc.

  • Head injuries that cause bleeding in any area of the brain

  • Imbalance of electrolytes

  • Sudden, extreme drop in blood sugar level

  • Insomnia, or not getting enough sleep

  • Taking certain strong medications such as pain relievers, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and those used to treat asthma, etc.

  • Withdrawals from prescription and recreational drugs, tobacco, and alcohol

  • Alcohol or drug abuse (especially of cocaine, heroin or other narcotics)

  • High fever caused by brain infections, like meningitis


Seizures, even if they are not life-threatening, can lead to serious consequences by causing different complications. These include falling, drawing, car accidents, accidents when operating heavy machinery, pregnancy complications, and emotional health issues. The most common dangers of seizures are a bone fracture, or joint dislocation caused when the person becomes unconscious and falls. The injury can be minor and treated with just rest and rehab or might need surgery. Learn more about dislocation following seizure activity.

Diagnosis and Tests

Most seizures can be controlled with medication, although their impact on your daily life can’t be eliminated. Computed Tomography of the head and EEG are the two common tests to detect any seizure disorder.

Seizures are divided into two main categories called focal or generalized seizures, depending on where the abnormal activity started. The doctors may also classify a seizure as unknown onset if no information is available about how it began.

Types of Seizures

Seizures have two main types:

Focal seizures

Also known as partial seizures, these start in one part of your brain and spread to the entire brain, causing physical and emotional effects. More than half the people with epilepsy experience focal seizures. It has two subtypes.

1.       Focal onset aware seizure: During the seizure, you don’t become unconscious, but you might not be able to respond to others around you. It usually lasts for a short period.

2.       Focal onset impaired awareness seizure: you may become unconscious and start doing uncontrolled such as moving legs and arms, chewing, and thrusting your pelvis.

Generalized Seizures

These occur when both sides of your brain are impacted causing muscle spasms, blackout, or fall. It has six sub-types.

1.  Grand mal seizure: the person experiences convulsions and loses consciousness. These can last around two minutes but should be considered a medical emergency when lasting longer than three minutes as the person can have trouble breathing or bite their tongue and choke.

2.  Clonic seizures: these can last for several minutes and cause muscle spasms where your head and arms jerk.

3.  Tonic seizures: comparatively more common in people with epilepsy (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome), these usually don’t last more than a few seconds and often occur when you’re sleeping. Your leg muscles get very tense, and you can fall if you try to stand up.

4.  Atonic seizures: comparatively common in people with epilepsy (Dravet syndrome), these seizures normally last for a few seconds and can cause the muscle numbness; you might fall or drop anything you’re holding in your hand.

5.  Myoclonic epilepsy/seizures: these are identified by a sudden jerking of muscles in the entire body and occur in the same area of your brain as atonic seizures.

6.  Petit mal seizures: common in children, these are identified by the rolling of eyes back in your heads and a blank stare into space. You get disconnected from everything around you for the time the seizure lasts – which is usually a few seconds.

Author Biography

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com.  Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.

AuthorCourtney Tracy