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Understanding Different Types of Seizures

Author: Svinder Toor, MD
Published Date: Thursday, December 01, 2016

Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical and chemical changes in the brain that result in temporary changes in body movement, awareness, consciousness or behavior. Seizures are categorized differently depending on where in the brain they start and how they spread.

Seizures Symptoms May Include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions (whole body shaking)
  • Confusion
  • Brief periods of staring
  • A sudden feeling of fear or panic
  • Uncontrolled shaking of an arm or leg
  • Flexing, stiffening, jerking or twitching of the upper body
  • Nodding of the head

Epilepsy can be the result of abnormal growths in the brain or traumatic brain injury. Epilepsy is a group of neurological conditions characterized by recurrent seizures. Hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. have a history of epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seizures may also be caused by an acute illness or acute brain injury.

Types of Seizures

Seizures are divided into two different types: generalized seizures and focal seizures. Seizures that involve the whole brain are referred to as generalized; seizures that start in one specific part of the brain are categorized as focal seizures.

Generalized Seizures

Common generalized seizures include convulsive seizures and absence seizures. Convulsive seizures cause rapid, rhythmic and sometimes violent shaking with a possible loss of consciousness. These seizures can last up to three minutes and usually stop on their own.

If a child is staring vacantly or has a lapse in attention, he may be experiencing what’s called an absence seizure. These seizures typically last just a few seconds and may be accompanied by other symptoms like eyelid fluttering, rapid eye blinking or lip smacking. Absence seizures are usually very subtle and may not even be noticed until they start interrupting day-to-day activities.

Focal Seizures

Focal seizures may start in one part of the brain and then spread to another. A child may become confused and his consciousness and speech might be impaired. He may walk around aimlessly, wringing his hands, unaware of what’s going on around him. This type of seizure lasts up to two minutes. And in some instances, a focal seizure can progress into a convulsive seizure.

Most seizures will stop on their own. If your child has a convulsive seizure, turn her on her side with her hips higher than her head so she doesn’t choke if she vomits, and never put anything in her mouth. When the seizure is over, call your pediatrician or calmly drive your child to the nearest emergency room. Call 911 if a seizure lasts more than five minutes.

For additional tips and more about epilepsy and other types of seizures, visit the AAP online at

About Svinder Toor, MD

About Svinder  Toor, MD Dr. Svinder Toor is a pediatric neurologist with Children's Specialty Group. Dr. Toor received his medical degree from the Medical College of Amritsar, India, and has been practicing for more than 20 years. His clinical interests include epilepsy, movement disorders and muscle disease.