Health Information

Symptoms of Epilepsy

Epilepsy seizures differ in their severity and can cause a wide range 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 or Focal Seizures

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

  • Tingling or numbness sensations in the arms, legs, hands, or feet
  • Muscle twitching of one side of a 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

The term Jacksonian march 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 begin from both sides of the brain. Symptoms include:

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

General Seizures Without Convulsions

One type of generalized seizure without convulsions is known as absence, also called 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 occurs
  • Very characteristic electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern

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

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2014 -
  • Update Date: 00/50/2014 -
  • Epilepsy in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 18, 2013. Accessed February 22, 2013.

  • Epilepsy in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 19, 2012. Accessed February 22, 2013.

  • NINDS Epilepsy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm. Updated February 21, 2013. Accessed February 22, 2013.

  • What is epilepsy? Epilepsy Foundation website. Available at: http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/whatisepilepsy/index.cfm. Accessed February 22, 2013.