Different Types of Seizures Associated with Epilepsy

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Different Types of Seizures Associated with Epilepsy

by SarahD on October 26, 2010

Various Types of Epileptic Seizures

You may think that all seizures are the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  While they do share some similarities (they begin as electrical discharge in the brain that leads to the seizing of some or all muscles in the body), there are different types that have a wide range of effects (and severity).  There are two main types: those that begin in both sides of the brain at once, or primary generalized seizures, and those that begin in a restricted portion of the brain, or partial seizures.  From there, they are broken down into several sub-categories, each of which must be diagnosed by a specialist to determine which course of treatment best suits each patient.

Those who are prone to primary generalized seizures may experience any of the following types of seizures: absence, atypical absence, myoclonic, atonic, tonic, clonic, or tonic-clonic.  Also known as petit mal, absence seizures result in periods of blankness and staring that last less than 30 seconds and could occur dozens of times each day.  They generally appear in children, result in no lasting damage, and in most cases, stop before adulthood.  In the case of atypical absence, there may be some responsiveness (albeit slow) during the spell.  This type generally lasts into adulthood and often coincides with other types of seizures.  Myoclonic seizures involve involuntary muscle spasms, usually in the neck, shoulders, or arms that occur on both sides of the body simultaneously.  They generally last only a couple of seconds, but may happen repeatedly.  Severity varies widely and while some cases are easily controlled with medication, others may simply deteriorate with little hope of control over the spasms.

Atonic (or drop) seizures are a bit more severe than those previously mentioned.  They occur when all muscle strength is lost (for less than 30 seconds) and the person drops to the floor, often sustaining injury (although they generally remain conscious).  These seizures tend to last into adulthood and are difficult to treat.  Tonic seizures are just the opposite, with muscles becoming contracting instead of relaxing, resulting in a stiffened body for about the same duration.  As with atonic seizures, the patient remains conscious, but again, there is relatively little that can be done to treat them.  Clonic seizures are sort of like a combination of the atonic and tonic, with muscles alternately relaxing and contracting, resulting in rhythmic jerking of the limbs.  This type of seizure is rare and often disappears over time.  Tonic-clonic seizures are much more common and are more often referred to as grand mal.  They are sometimes heralded by strange behaviors followed by a stiffening of the body (resulting in a fall) and then a jerking of the body.  These episodes generally last 1-3 minutes (although they can last longer) during which the patient is unconscious.  They awaken tired and confused.  This type of seizure may come on during childhood or adulthood and is often treatable with medication.  In many cases, seizures may disappear completely over time.

As for those who suffer from partial seizures, they may experience simple partial, complex partial, or secondarily generalized seizures.  Simple partial seizures usually last less than two minutes, during which time the patient is conscious.  They may cause feelings of euphoria, or alternately, anxiety and they can affect motor skills (causing jerking of the body or speech impairment that the person may not be aware of), the senses (indicating sounds, sights, odors, etc. that aren’t actually present), the autonomic nervous system (leading to heartbeat irregularity or strange sensations in the stomach or chest), and the psyche (resulting in thoughts or feelings that seem to have no source).  These seizures can often be treated with medication.  Complex partial seizures start in one area of the brain and quickly spread to other areas, resulting in a semi-conscious state that may last up to two minutes.  Sometimes the patient knows they’re coming and sits down.  Muscle movements may occur, but the patient remains unresponsive.  Afterwards, there is memory loss, confusion, and tiredness.  These can sometimes be treated with medication or surgery.

Finally, secondary generalized seizures start as a partial seizure but then spread, often becoming a clonic-tonic seizure.  Because they generally start in one area, many people who experience this type of seizure have a warning device (a sensation in one part of the body that seems to grow or spread) that will allow them to prepare (although it may be too brief to do anything but drop to the floor).  It can be hard to diagnose this type of seizure because it is so close to a primary generalized seizure, but it can often be treated with medication and if properly diagnosed, targeted surgery.

Sarah Danielson writes for Noel Qualter, a wedding magician who performs at corporate events, weddings, product launches, balls, banquets and more.

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