Health advice
Symptoms of epilepsy
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Epilepsy is a condition that can make people have seizures. Read more to learn about the symptoms of epilepsy, including the different types of seizure and what can trigger them.
Types of seizure

There are many different types of seizure. Some people with epilepsy have only one type of seizure, while others have two or more types. Everyone also experiences seizures differently.

The main types of seizure are:

  • Focal aware seizures. Focal means that the seizures start in one area of the brain. You are fully conscious while they’re happening. During focal aware seizures, you may experience strange sensations, depending on the part of your brain that’s affected. For example, if you have a focal aware seizure that happens in your temporal lobe, you may have déjà vu. They usually last for less than one minute.1, 2
  • Focal impaired awareness seizures. These seizures start in one area of your brain too, but you are not fully aware of what’s happening around you. People sometimes move while having focal impaired awareness seizures, such as smacking their lips together. They usually last for one to two minutes.1, 2
  • Tonic seizures. In tonic seizures, your muscles tighten. Depending on whether they start in one area or all of the brain, only some muscles will tighten or all of them will. You may fall to the ground when you have a tonic seizure. They usually last from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.1, 2
  • Atonic seizures. When you have an atonic seizure, all or some of your muscles go limp. This depends on whether they start in one part or all of your brain. Atonic seizures usually only last a couple of seconds.1, 2
  • Tonic-clonic seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures are what most people think of when they hear the word seizures. They affect both sides of the brain. First, you lose consciousness, all your muscles tense and you may fall. Then, your muscles all clench and unclench rhythmically. Tonic-clonic seizures can affect your breathing and oxygen getting to your brain. If they last more than five minutes, they are a medical emergency and someone must call an ambulance.1, 2
  • Absence seizures. In absence seizures, people suddenly lose awareness and stop what they’re doing. They usually only last a few seconds and affect both sides of your brain.1, 2
  • Myoclonic seizures. This type of seizure causes your muscles to jerk. They can start in one part of your brain or all of it, and either one part of your body can jerk or all of it. Myoclonic seizures usually last for less than a second.1, 2
  • Seizure triggers

    Some people with epilepsy find that their seizures are triggered by specific things in their bodies or their environment.

    About 4-7% of people with epilepsy have reflex epilepsy. This is when specific things trigger their seizures, such as seeing flashing lights, hearing music or hot water.3

    But even if you don’t have reflex epilepsy, lots of people find that certain things make them more likely to have seizures.

    Some of these things include:

  • stress
  • not sleeping well
  • being at a certain point in your menstrual cycle
  • drinking alcohol or taking drugs
  • missing a dose of your medication
  • missing meals.1
  • References
    1. Epilepsy - Symptoms. Published October 23, 2017. Accessed March 1, 2023.
    2. Reflex epilepsy: triggers and management strategies - PMC. Accessed March 1, 2023.

    Published: October 2022

    Next review: October 2025

    Reviewer: Mital Thakrar, Pharmacist

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