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What a seizure could look like: it may not be what you think!

May 27, 2012 1:15 PMSend to a Friend



When many people think about what a seizure looks like, they usually think of a tonic-clonic (often called grand mal) seizure. This seizure type involves a sudden loss of consciousness and convulsions. However, there are more than 20 different types of seizures! In fact tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures are not even the most common kind. In this blog entry, we’ll discuss characteristics of some other seizure types, as well as give visual examples of what they can look like.

Complex-Partial Seizures
This is the most common seizure type in adults and seniors. It is characterized by:         

  • Impairment of consciousness: an individual may seem to be “out of it”
  • Loss of control of movement, speech, and/or actions
  • Repetitive involuntary movements, such as: wandering, incoherent speech, flailing, chewing, picking at clothes, lip smacking, and/or other movements
  • Usually 1-3 minutes long  

These are links to videos that show a complex partial seizure:
This girl is unresponsive, does not seem to recognize her surroundings, and is repetitively picking at her shirt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l4_JhYo1Fo   
This girl is unable to say her name, is mumbling words and sounds that do not seem to make sense, and she has uncontrolled movements of her arms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYtw0lWreLI&feature=related

Simple Partial Seizures
This seizure type could take on many different characteristics. However, the person does not lose consciousness during these seizures. Other characteristics could include:

  • Sudden and inexplicable feelings of fear, anger, sadness, happiness or nausea
  • Experiencing unusual feelings or sensations
  • Altered sense of hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing, and tactile perception
  • Twitching of one or more parts of the body
  • Short duration (usually less than one minute)

This is a link to a video that shows a simple partial seizure. The boy is having uncontrolled twitching of his mouth on one side of his body: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtjPs_B99Bo&feature=related     

Abscene Seizures (often called Petit Mal seizures)
This is the most common seizure type in children. However, these are almost always outgrown by the age of 12. This seizure type is characterized by:

  • Loss of awareness (the person cannot hear, talk, or respond)
  • Pause in activity
  • Blank stare
  • Possible eyelid fluttering
  • No recollection
  • Very brief – they usually only last 3 to 15 seconds

This is a link to a video that shows an absence seizure. The boy is doing homework when he suddenly stops his activity, has a blank stare, his eyes roll up and his eyelids flutter. Afterwards he is able to quickly resume his previous activity and respond: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3iLQi6wt94&feature=related

This is a link to another video which shows an absence seizure. The seizure is brief, the child cannot respond, and there is a quick recovery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAJ8A1IwI4s&feature=related

Myoclonic Seizures (often called Myclonic Jerks)
This seizure type is characterized by:

  • Brief, shock-like muscle contractions – these can affect whole body or parts of body, but most often the shoulders and arms
  • No loss of consciousness

This is a link to a video that shows a myoclonic seizure. This child is eating dinner when he suddenly has a few myoclonic seizures within a short period of time. He does not lose consciousness and quickly resumes eating: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIzeIICqqJ0&feature=related  

Atonic Seizures (often called Drop Seizures or Drop Attacks)
This seizure type is characterized by:

  • Sudden loss of muscle tone
  • Usually result in head drops and/or falls
  • Short duration (usually less than 15 seconds)
  • Quick recovery

This is a link to a video that shows a boy having atonic seizures. They come on very suddenly, are brief and the recovery is also quite quick. He is able to almost immediately respond to his mother after having one. Since he is sitting down and secure in his car seat he does not fall, his head just drops forward: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9obFVWW47NE&feature=related  

As you’ve seen, seizures can look like very many things. As such, they could go unrecognized or be mistaken for another medical condition or behaviour. It is important  to recognize what a seizure looks like so you can best assist someone who may be having one.

For more information, please read our Information Sheet: Seizure Types and First Aid.

Posted by the BC Epilepsy Society at May 27, 2012 1:15 PM

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