Epilepsy is one of the most complex medical conditions in the world. This makes it difficult for even healthcare professionals to understand, let alone patients and families living with the condition daily.

Just when you think you are starting to understand your condition, you are often thrown a curveball and your seizure type or pattern changes, or a medication you have been successfully using for years stops working.

Epilepsy is difficult to predict and you often find yourself second guessing when a seizure may strike. Often when you are ill, overtired, stressed or have a sudden change to your everyday routine, seizures can become more frequent. But you also have those seizures that can happen without warning and with no rhyme or reason behind them, leaving you pondering if anything has changed lately that may have triggered them.

The fact is that there are so many varying types of epilepsy from genetic conditions you are born with, to a brain illness or injury that causes a sudden onset of epilepsy at any point in your life. This makes it difficult for some people to understand their epilepsy and what types of seizures they may have.

What makes it even harder is the fact that over the years some terminology has changed that describes seizures, so you may hear different words to describe your specific seizure type and not understand the meanings, or if in fact they are describing the same type of seizure just with using different words.

As with everything, knowledge is the key and the more you understand about epilepsy the better informed you can be to choose the right help and support for you and your family and tap into services and products available to help you live your life to the full. We have tried to break down the language barrier with this handy guide to seizure types and terminology so that you can understand epilepsy a little bit better.

Seizure Terminology Associated Symptoms

Fit/Fitting

Although no longer deemed as politically correct as the word “Fit” can also be used to describe a person having a tantrum.

This terminology is still widely used by healthcare professionals as well as patients and family members to describe any type of seizure occurring. I.e. you may be asked “how long have they been fitting for” rather than “how long have they been seizing” if you were to call a GP or ambulance.

Generalised Seizures

When you hear the term generalised it means that the onset of the seizure has been produced by the entire brain. It can also be referred to as Global or Globalised seizures.

These are broken down into seizure types -Tonic Clonic/Tonic/Absence/ Myoclonic and are usually the most severe seizures you can suffer from.

Partial Seizures

This is where the seizure has started in one specific part of the brain. It may also be referred to as localised seizure. These seizures are usually less severe than generalised seizures but seizures can sometimes start as partial seizure and then go into a generalised seizure.

These seizure types are:

Simple Motor
Simple Sensory
Simple Psychological
Complex Partial
Partial Seizure with secondary generalisation

 

Generalised seizures
(Produced by entire brain)

Associated Symptoms

Tonic Clonic (formerly known as Grand Mal)

Causes the patient to become unconscious (unresponsive) convulsions (body shaking) muscle rigidity.

Tonic
(formerly known as Petit Mal)

Can make no movement or sound but just have muscle stiffness and rigidity.

Absence

Patient goes completely vacant, can last a few seconds or several minutes.

Myoclonic

Sporadic isolated muscle jerking of either full body or one limb.

Absence

Also known as drop seizures. Patient suffers a sudden loss of muscle tone and collapses without warning – most common for causing injuries during seizure.

Absence

Repetitive jerking movements of the whole body.

 

Partial Seizures
(Produced by small area of brain)

Associated Symptoms (Awareness is retained)

Simple Motor

Jerking, muscle rigidity, spasms, head turning.

Simple Sensory (Aura)

Unusual sensations affecting either vision, hearing, smell taste or touch, this can also be known as an aura that can be a tell-tale warning sign for many that you are about to have a bigger seizure.

Simple Psychological

Memory or emotional disturbances.

Complex Partial

Lip smacking, chewing, fidgeting, walking or other involuntary but coordinated movements.

Partial Seizure
(with secondary generalisation)

Symptoms can present as any of the above seizures, but then develop into unconsciousness and a generalised seizure.

 

Other Seizure Types Associated Symptoms
Controlled Epilepsy

This is where a patient has been able to find the right medications or treatments such as a VNS (vagal nerve stimulator) or brain surgery to stop having frequent seizures.

Patients can sometimes go years without a seizure which can then enable them to drive and carry out normal everyday jobs and activities.

 

Other Seizure Types Associated Symptoms

Uncontrolled Epilepsy

This is where unfortunately no combination of medication or treatments have been able to stop frequent seizures. Patients can have seizures daily sometimes multiple seizures which can affect their everyday activities.

Cluster Seizures

This is where a patient can have multiple seizures over a short space of time. Usually the patient will only stop one seizure for a few seconds or minutes before the next seizure occurs.

Status Epilepticus

This is when the seizure activity in the brain becomes uncontrolled causing a patient to have one prolonged seizure or a cluster of seizures that have not been stopped with emergency medication administered by family or paramedics.

The patient must be treated in hospital with stronger anti-epileptic drugs and sometimes sedation and life support to help prevent brain damage whilst trying to stop the prolonged seizure activity in the brain.

Nocturnal Seizures

This is when a patient only has seizures when they are asleep.

Usually Tonic or Tonic Clonic Seizures. These seizures are deemed as more dangerous as patients are more likely to be alone at onset of seizure or family and carers asleep too which can mean they miss seizures and are unable to administer emergency medication which can lead to seizure complications placing them at a greater risk to SUDEP.

SUDEP

(Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy)

This is a fatal complication of epilepsy.

SUDEP is still a big unknown in the epilepsy world as no one knows what truly causes it or if it can be prevented.

It usually occurs during a seizure when the body shuts down its internal organs and the patient is unable to be resuscitated.

Febrile Convulsions

Usually associated with illness or high temperature in children from birth usually +up to the age of 5.

These seizures are non-epileptic seizures but present the same as a Tonic Clonic or Tonic Seizure. They can be stopped with anti-epileptic emergency medication.

NEAD Seizures (Non-Epileptic Activity Disorder)

These seizures can present the same as any type of epileptic seizure but are not caused by electrical activity in the brain.

They are commonly linked to mental health disorders and although they cannot be controlled with anti-epileptic medication, they can sometimes be controlled with anti-depressants or mood stabilisers alongside therapy.

They are known by various different names such as:

Dissociative Seizures
Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES)
Unfortunately are sometimes referred to as pseudo seizures.

Pseudo Seizures

Refers to when someone pretends to have any type of seizure.

Sometimes this is done to obtain seizure medication for addicts or if a patient is suffering from mental health issues or wants attention.