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BC Epilepsy Society Blog

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:   
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:

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:     

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:

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:

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:  

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:  

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


Mark -

Thanks for this informative article on seizures.


I am continuously looking online for posts that can assist me. Thx!

homepage -

Your articles were so good. After browsing your blog???I have benefited greatly~~~~Hope you can create more splendid works~~ have a good content of articles~~~so that we can often browse them~~~~.

Kerianne -

I am a married mother of three and a few years back i had my first seizure . The first two where grand mal the third one i was still coherent and yesterday 3-23-13 I had my fourth one and that one along with the first two was grand mal. What scares me is that you can't control them, you don't know when you are about to have one. I can no longer drive so how does a mom pick up when they get sick at school , how do you get them to their doctors apointments when need be and so on and so fourth. Their father my husband is here when he can be after all somebody has to pay the bills and do the best he can to keep this better then. nothing roof over our heads . Somebody will talk smack but it is life threatening . Imagine driving down the road and looking at your babies through the mirror now imagine having any of many kinds of seizures and once again your family is in the vehicle Idon't think Ineed to say anymore... From very sad and scared in N. Carolina

kaylee -

when ever you have to go to emergcey room and ried the ambelins why not get something that gos in you neck and if you ever have a seizshier it wel go away it self i know how you are all felling.



Julie -

I loved these videos. I feel for you all because I have them also and just keep getting told it is stress or nobody can figure it out but these look all too familiar. Please if anybody could suggests anything they are doing I will listen!! Take care to all of you.



I have had seizures since I was 6yrs old, I'm 19 now. I have 2 types of seizures abscene and grand mal. I was told when I was younger I will grow out of them and never did. My Dr says I will more than likely have the forever and if I have children later there is an 80% chance my child could have them.

Amanda -

I have had seizures since I was 6yrs old, I'm 19 now. I have 2 types of seizures abscene and grand mal. I was told when I was younger I will grow out of them and never did. My Dr says I will more than likely have the forever and if I have children later there is an 80% chance my child could have them.

BC Epilepsy Society -

Hello Amanda, I am sorry to hear that you are still having seizures. Luckily, you are still young so you have lots of time for them to potentially stop or reduce in frequency or severity. Absence seizures in particular are almost always outgrown by the age of 19 (I've heard about 90% of the time). It's interesting to hear that your Dr. said that you are at such a high risk of having a child with epilepsy. The vast majority of women do not have children with epilepsy. If you do plan on having children, please see an epilepsy specialist before you get pregnant so they can adjust your medications and give you the vitamins that you will need for a healthy pregnancy and child. Best of luck.

ryan - (%Blog URL)

I have epilepsy in almost every way u describe but when i twitch I see white for a second and not coherent I also have gran mals after my twitches and it starts off by my anger being triggered u nailed this one keep on doin what you do

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