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Introduction to seizures

Epilepsy is not a single condition. Sometimes you might hear people talk about ‘the epilepsies’. This is because there are many different types of epilepsy. Epilepsy can start at different times for different people. And the different types of epilepsy can produce different signs and symptoms.

To keep things simple, in this information we talk about epilepsy, rather than the epilepsies.

Having epilepsy always means that you have a tendency to have epileptic seizures. It is not necessarily a life-long diagnosis. And doctors may consider that you no longer have epilepsy if you go without seizures for a long enough time.

Epilepsy Action has more information about the definition of epilepsy.

The information in these web pages gives a brief explanation of the most common types of epileptic seizures.


Electrical activity is happening in our brain all the time. A seizure happens when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain. This is often referred to as epileptic activity. The epileptic activity causes a temporary disruption to the way the brain normally works, so the brain’s messages become mixed up. The result is an epileptic seizure.

How seizures affect you depends on the area of your brain affected by the epileptic activity. For example, some people lose consciousness during a seizure but other people don’t. Some people have strange sensations, or parts of their body might twitch or jerk. Other people fall to the floor and convulse. This is when they jerk violently as their muscles tighten and relax repeatedly.

Seizures usually last between a few seconds and several minutes. After a seizure, the person’s brain and body will usually return to normal.

Some people only ever have seizures when they are awake. Other people only ever have them when they are asleep. Some people have a mixture of both.

Epilepsy Action has more information about epilepsy and sleep

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


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 July 2014
    To be reviewed July 2017

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