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Epileptic seizures explained

If you have epilepsy, it means you have a tendency to have epileptic seizures. But what are epileptic seizures?

Electrical activity is happening in our brain all the time, as networks of tiny brain cells send messages to each other. These messages control all our thoughts, movements, senses and body functions. A seizure happens when there is a sudden, intense burst of electrical activity in the brain, which causes the messages between cells to get mixed up. The result is an epileptic seizure.

How a seizure affects you depends on what area of the brain is involved in this intense electrical activity. You might lose consciousness, or you might stay aware of what’s happening around you. You might have strange sensations, or movements you can’t control. Or you might go stiff, fall to the floor and shake.

Some people only have one type of seizure, and some people have more than one type.

Click on the links below to find out how seizures are classified, and learn more about some of the most common types of epileptic seizure.

Seizure classification

Epileptic seizures

Focal seizures

Tonic-clonic seizures

Absence seizures

Myoclonic seizures

Tonic seizures

Atonic seizures

Other seizures

Febrile Seizures

Dissociative seizures

See this information with references

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk

Code: 
B037.04

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Professor Helen Cross, The Prince of Wales’s Chair of Childhood Epilepsy and Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Neurology at UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, for her contribution to this information.

Professor Cross has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated July 2017
    To be reviewed July 2020

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