Seizure can also refer to the act of taking hold of property, for this meaning see Seizure (law)
A video of a seizure
Someone who has bitten the tip of their tongue while having a seizure

A seizure happens when the nerves in a person's brain act strangely. Nerves send information, partly through electrical signals. Usually, nerves in the brain (called neurons) do not fire at the same time. During a seizure, groups of nerves start firing together, too fast.[1] This causes there to be too much disorganized electrical activity in the brain.

Most people think a person with a seizure will shake and twitch. Some will, but there are also other kinds of seizures.[2]

Types of Seizures

There are many different types of seizures. They are named by how much of the brain they affect and what happens to the person when they are having that type of seizure.

Partial seizures

In partial seizures, only a small part of the brain is involved in the seizure. These seizures can be more specifically called:

  • Simple partial: The person stays awake the whole time the seizure is happening. They may twitch (especially in just one part of their body), feel dizzy, or smell and taste things that are not there.
  • Complex partial: The person "zones out" during the seizure and may seem confused, experience deja vu, laugh, feel afraid, see things that are not there, or smell something bad. The person may also do something over and over again, like button and rebutton a shirt.

Generalized seizures

In generalized seizures, a larger part of the brain is involved in the seizure. Often, parts of both hemispheres (halves of the brain) are affected. These seizures can be more specifically called:

  • Tonic-clonic - The person faints, and starts having involuntary jerking motions. They may bite their tongue, scream, drool, urinate or defecate. This kind of seizure often follows an aura, or strange feeling the person has, although not all people who have these seizures get these feelings. Tonic-clonic seizures can last up to 20 minutes.
  • Absence - People having absence seizures often look like they are just "spaced out." They do not fall to the ground or have jerking movements, but they do not seem to hear or notice anything around them. Other people may not notice that the person is having a seizure at all. The person may simply freeze in place and pick up where they left off when the seizure is over. The person having the seizure usually does not remember it afterward. This kind of seizure only lasts up to 10 seconds.
  • Myoclonic - A myoclonic jerk is a sudden jerking motion, usually on both sides of the body. This kind of seizure is most common in children under 5. Myoclonic seizures can be seen in adults, who tend of have myoclonic jerks when they are falling asleep or already asleep. Children can have these myoclonic jerks while awake.

Status epilepticus: A medical emergency

Status epilepticus is a medical emergency. A person is "in status" when:[3]

  • They have a seizure that lasts more than five minutes; OR
  • They have more than one seizure without recovering in between.

Status epilepticus is a medical emergency because the brain will not get enough oxygen during a long seizure. This can cause brain damage or death.[3]

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