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 learn more about the structure of the brain, and some of the most common types of epileptic seizure.

The structure of the brain

Epileptic seizures

Focal seizures

Tonic-clonic seizures

Absence seizures

Myoclonic seizures

Tonic seizures

Atonic seizures

Other seizures

Febrile Seizures

Dissociative seizures


Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr John Paul Leach, consultant neurologist at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, for this contribution to this information.

Dr Leach has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated July 2019
    To be reviewed July 2022

Comments: read the 2 comments or add yours


I have recently been told by a NHS Consultant that 'a seizure is a seizure and there is no such thing as epilepsy' .Also 'that a mini stroke is not transient'.
Are these his personal opinions or current medical opinion?

Submitted by John Clarke

Hi John. That does sound like confusing information. I wonder what they meant? Epilepsy is an international recognised health condition. Maybe the consultant was trying to say something slightly different.

Here is the NHS information about strokes. There are different levels at which a stroke may affect someone. But that’s the most useful fact I can offer, related to the sentence.

I hope that’s of some help.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Cherry - Epilep...

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