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Understanding Different Types of Seizures

Understanding Different Types of Seizures

If you don’t have experience with seizures, you may envision them as Hollywood portrays them. While losing consciousness, falling to the floor, and having whole-body jerking motions is a type of seizure, it’s only one type.

Seizures range from such minimal symptoms no one notices to the type seen in movies. THINK Neurology for Kids put together this blog to explain the types of seizures and the symptoms they cause.

Seizure intro

The surge in electrical activity that triggers a seizure can begin on one side of the brain or involve both sides. Sometimes it begins on one side and spreads to the other. However, where the seizure begins doesn’t determine the type of seizure or the symptoms that occur.

Here’s a rundown of the symptoms that occur during the different types of seizures:

Tonic-clonic seizures

A tonic-clonic seizure (the classic one you see in movies) goes through stages. First, your child’s muscles stiffen and tighten, and they lose consciousness. Then their arms and legs jerk rapidly and repeatedly. Finally, consciousness slowly returns. Afterward, your child may feel sleepy, have a headache, or have temporary vision or speech problems.

Tonic-clonic seizures last up to three minutes. If the episode lasts five minutes or longer, consider it an emergency that needs immediate medical attention.

Focal aware and focal impaired awareness seizures

This type of seizure lasts 1-2 minutes. During a focal aware seizure, your child may stay awake and aware but unable to respond or control their body. They may have muscle movements, stomach pain, or sudden fear or anger.

Children with impaired awareness may stare, move their mouth, pick at their clothing, repeat words, scream, laugh, cry, or perform other repeated, uncontrollable actions. They may also lose consciousness.

Absence seizures

Absence seizures most commonly appear between the ages of 4 to 14 years. A typical absence seizure lasts 10 seconds or less and often goes undetected. You may think your child is daydreaming, or your child’s teacher might call it an attention problem.

During an absence seizure, your child briefly stops moving and isn’t aware of what’s happening around them. They keep the same body posture but may stare into the distance or have subtle eye or face movements. For example, they may blink their eyes or smack their lips.

When the seizure is over, your child may not realize what happened. They immediately continue their activity as if nothing happened.

Atonic or tonic seizures (drop attacks)

Atonic seizures cause a loss of muscle tone. Tonic seizures do the opposite, causing tight, stiff muscles. In both cases, children often collapse and fall. If they’re sitting during an atonic attack, they may suddenly drop their head. These seizures usually last less than a minute, and then your child immediately regains full awareness.

Myoclonic seizures

Myoclonic seizures cause sudden, brief twitching or jerking movements in a muscle or group of muscles. The seizures often begin while your child wakes up and frequently occur in clusters of multiple seizures in a short time. Myoclonic seizures are associated with epilepsy.

Infantile spasms

Infantile spasms are a type of seizure that commonly occurs between the ages of 4-7 months but can start any time during your child’s first few years. The spasms tend to occur when your child is waking.

During the spasm, their muscles tighten and cause movements, such as:

Each seizure lasts 1-2 seconds, but the spasms typically appear in clusters and can occur up to 100 times in a day. Children who have infantile spasms have a higher risk of developing epilepsy, autism, and intellectual disabilities.

Febrile seizures

Children commonly have seizures between the ages of three months to six years when they have a high fever. Febrile seizures often cause full-body convulsions (tonic-clonic), but may only affect one part of the body. 

Your child’s seizure may be short-lived or continue well beyond 15 minutes. If it lasts longer than 5 minutes, you should seek medical attention.

After any seizure, including febrile seizures, children should have a thorough evaluation. In addition to a comprehensive physical exam, we perform in-office electroencephalograms (EEGs). EEGs show electrical activity in the brain, giving us information about the type of seizure.

If you have any questions about your child’s symptoms, call THINK Neurology for Kids or book an appointment online today.

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