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of everyone affected by epilepsy

Epileptic seizures explained

In this section

Introduction to seizures

A seizure is defined when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain.

In around six out of 10 people, doctors don’t know the causes of epilepsy.

Triggers make seizures more likely for some people. Seizures can start at any age.

There are times a person will no longer be considered to have epilepsy.

Seizure classification

The International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), a world-wide organisation of epilepsy professionals, has put together a list of the names of different seizure types.

Seizure types

Different seizure types happen in different parts of the brain. Seizure types can be described as either focal or generalised.

Focal (partial) seizures

In focal seizures, epileptic activity starts in one part of the person’s brain.

The structure of the brain
Temporal lobes
Frontal lobes
Parietal lobes
Occipital lobes

Todd’s paresis (sometimes called Todd’s paralysis)

Focal seizures that act as a warning of a generalised seizure

Generalised seizures

In generalised seizures, you have epileptic activity in both hemispheres (halves) of your brain.

Tonic-clonic seizures
Tonic seizures
Atonic seizures
Myoclonic seizures
Absence seizures

Status epilepticus

Most seizures are brief or last for a few minutes. However, sometimes a seizure can last for longer. If seizure activity lasts for 30 minutes or more, it is called status epilepticus.

What to do when someone has a seizure

First aid for people with epilepsy

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


Our thanks

Epilepsy Action wishes to thank Dr John Paul Leach, consultant neurologist, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, Glasgow, UK for reviewing this information.  

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

  • Updated August 2014
    To be reviewed August 2017

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