Types of Seizures and Seizure Symptoms
The human brain is constantly full awash in electrical impulses jumping between synapses and promoting all sorts of different functions within the body. Usually, this concert of electrical impulses goes as smoothly as intended, and the individual won’t be one of the numbers of unfortunate people who are prone to seizures. For these people, their electrical impulses begin malfunctioning and act detrimentally to prevent normal functioning of the brain. If you’ve ever seen someone having one, you’ll know that seizure symptoms are pretty much impossible to ignore.
Understanding that not all seizures are the same is a good place to start, as there are several different types of seizures. However, some may be asking what is a seizure exactly or what is seizure disorder? That’s a good question, as seizures are much more complicated in their nature than simply getting a powerful case of ‘shakes’ or ‘tremors’, as many people dismissively believe.
Types of Seizures
There are 3 main types of seizures, as well as a pair of lesser ones. Standard seizure symptoms can apply to each of them. We’ll cover some of the common seizure symptoms below, but for now let’s look at the 3 primary types of seizures first:
1. Partial (Epileptic) Seizures
Epilepsy is a neurological condition where these electrical brain impulses occur far too frequently and the brain is overloaded with the messages and prompts carried within them. This overload of electrical impulses is what triggers the seizure. Epileptic seizures only happen on one side of the brain, and a result one of the most characteristic seizure symptoms for partial seizures is that only one side of the body is affected.
2. Non-Epileptic (Dissociative) Seizures
This seizure type is incidental in nature, meaning that it is not a result of any inherent physiological causes. Instead, a non-epileptic seizure is usually caused by an injury or an illness. For injuries, blows to the head are a leading cause of non-epileptic seizures. For illnesses, Tourette Syndrome, eclampsia, meningitis, encephalitis, and migraine headaches are common illnesses that can cause dissociative seizures.
3. Generalized Seizures
Included in these types of seizures are grand-mal seizures and petit-mal seizures. Unlike epileptic seizures, generalized seizures can occur on both side of the brain and affect both side of the body accordingly. Grand mal seizures are also called tonic-clonic seizures, and this name is because of the two stages seen with these types of seizures – the tonic stage and the clonic stage. More on these below when we discuss seizure symptoms in greater detail.
Now let’s look at the 2 lesser types of seizures:
1. First Seizures
A first seizure is a 1-time event that is brought on by exposure to a specific trigger, and quite commonly that trigger is either a drug or being given anaesthesia. These seizures are usually one and done, as they rarely ever recur.
2. Febrile Seizures
This is also one of the types of seizures that doesn’t come with the same level of ongoing concern as the primary ones detailed above. Febrile seizures occur in children who are experiencing high fever, but physicians usually allay concern here by saying that these usually don’t lead to epilepsy or epileptic seizures. Febrile seizure can recur, however, and do so in roughly 25 to 30% of cases. Damage to the nervous system can increase this risk.
The different seizure symptoms one may see in a person who’s having a seizure can vary based on individuals and the type of seizure being had. Many symptoms will be included in all of the different types of seizures, but first we need to make clear that there are both pre-seizure symptoms and in-seizure symptoms.
Pre-seizure symptoms include:
- Sudden feeling of anxiousness or fear
- ‘Sick to your stomach’ feeling
- Unexplained vision changes
- Jerky movements of arms and legs that cause awkward movements or dropping items unintentionally
- Out-of-body sensations
In-seizure symptoms include:
- Uncontrollable muscle spasms
- Loss of consciousness
- Drooling or frothing at the mouth
- Falling down, or extreme difficulty staying on your feet
- Strange tastes in your mouth
- Clenching teeth involuntarily
- Biting tongue
- Unusual noises, like grunting
- Sudden, rapid eye movements
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Sudden and extreme mood changes
For Grand Mal seizures, in the tonic phase loss of consciousness occurs while muscles suddenly contract. The person will usually fall down as a result, and this phase last for 10 to 20 seconds.
In the clonic phase the muscles go into rhythmic contractions, flexing and then relaxing. These usually last for a couple of minutes or less.
Effective Treatments and Seizure Medications
Seizures are treated with one or more of the following methods; medications, surgery, nerve stimulation, or following a ketogenic diet. Common prescription anti seizure medications include:
Surgery Options for Seizures
An option to seizure medications for some people will be surgery. The most interesting and promising of them is vagus nerve stimulation. This surgery for relief of seizures involves having a device implanted under the skin of your chest, which then sends electrical impulses that stimulate the vagus nerve in your neck. When stimulated it sends signals to the brain that inhibit seizures. For some people the use of medication and a vagus nerve stimulator is the perfect combination for allowing them to avoid seizures.
Deep brain stimulation is another one. It involves doctors implanting electrodes within certain areas of the brain, and then having them produce electrical impulses to regulate abnormal brain activity. That’s done with a pacemaker-like device that’s also implanted in the chest.
These options are of course only even considered when standard treatment approaches are insufficient, but you can speak with your physician regarding them if your seizures have proven to be resistant to medication and lifestyle changes.