The seizures that characterize epilepsy differ in their severity and can cause a wide array of symptoms. Some seizures can be mild, and last only a minute or two. Other seizures cause intense symptoms that last much longer. Acute, repetitive seizures can result in damage to the heart or brain, and possibly death if emergency treatment is not given right away.

There are many different ways of classifying seizures. Examples include:

Partial, Jacksonian, or Focal Seizures

These seizures arise from just one part of the brain. Symptoms include:

  • Tingling or numbness sensations in the arms, legs, hands, or feet
  • Muscle twitching of unilateral (one side only) limb, hand, finger, or muscle
  • Experiencing smells, tastes, sights, sounds, or other sensations that are not real
  • Unusual, repetitive, uncontrolled motions or movements, such as chewing movements or smacking of the lips (called automatisms)

The term Jacksonian implies that the symptoms spread from one part of the body to another. Focal onset seizures can become generalized. This means that they spread to both sides of the brain.

Generalized Convulsive (Grand Mal) Seizures

These seizures arise from both sides of the brain. Symptoms include:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Loss of urinary or bowel control
  • Muscle spasms (clonic movements) or stiffening (tonic movements) of the muscles
  • Drop attacks
  • Unusual, repetitive, uncontrolled motions or movements (automatisms)
  • Biting of tongue
  • Prior to the convulsions:
    • Feeling of unusual premonition or warning (aura), such as the smell of burning rubber
  • After convulsions:
    • Deep sleep, drowsiness, confusion, or altered responsiveness
    • Awakening with headache
    • Awakening with no memory (amnesia) of the seizure

General Seizures Without Convulsions

One type of generalized seizure without convulsions are known as absence (“petit mal”) seizures. This type is more common in children. Symptoms include:

  • Appearance of daydreaming
  • Blinking of the eyes rhythmically
  • Twitching of facial muscles
  • No memory of the seizure after it occurred
  • Very characteristic electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern

There are also other types of generalized seizures without convulsive activity.