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Generalised seizures

In these seizures, you have epileptic activity in both hemispheres (halves) of your brain. You usually lose consciousness during these types of seizure, but sometimes it can be so brief that no one notices. The muscles in your body may stiffen and/or jerk. You may fall down.

The following is about the different types of generalised seizures. The list includes:

Tonic-clonic seizures

There are two phases in a tonic-clonic seizure: the ‘tonic’ phase, followed by the ‘clonic’ phase.

During the tonic phase, you lose consciousness, your body goes stiff, and you fall to the floor. You may cry out.

During the clonic phase, your limbs jerk, you may lose control of your bladder or bowels, bite your tongue or the inside of your cheek, and clench your teeth or jaw. You might stop breathing, or have difficulty breathing, and could go blue around your mouth.

After a tonic-clonic seizure, you might have a headache and feel sore, tired and very unwell. You might feel confused, or have memory problems. You might go into a deep sleep. When you wake up, minutes or hours later, you might still have a headache, feel sore and have aching muscles.

Tonic seizures

The symptoms of a tonic seizure are like the first part of a tonic-clonic seizure. But, in a tonic seizure, you don’t go on to have the jerking stage (clonic). You may cry out. 

Atonic seizures

Atonic seizures are also called drop attacks. If you have atonic seizures, you will lose all muscle tone and drop heavily to the floor. These seizures are very brief and you will usually be able to get up again straight away. However, you might hurt your face, nose or head when you fall.

Myoclonic seizures

These are usually isolated or short-lasting jerks that can affect some or all of your body. They are usually too short to affect your consciousness. The jerking can be very mild, like a twitch, or it can be very forceful.

Myoclonic seizures often only last for a fraction of a second and you might have a single jerk or clusters of several jerks.

Absence seizures

Absence seizures usually develop in children and adolescents. The two most common types of absence seizure are typical and atypical.

Typical absences

If you are having a typical absence seizure, you will be unconscious for a few seconds. You will stop doing whatever you were doing before it started, but will not fall. You might appear to be daydreaming or ‘switching off’ or people around you might not notice your absence. You might blink and have slight jerking movements of your body or limbs. In longer absences, you might have some brief, repeated actions. You won’t know what is happening around you, and can’t be brought out of it.

Some people have hundreds of absences a day. They often have them in clusters, and they are often worse when they are waking up or drifting off to sleep.

Atypical absences

These absences are similar to, but not the same as, typical absences. They last longer. You will have less loss of consciousness, and may have a change in muscle tone. You might be able to move around, but you will be clumsy, and need some guidance and support. You may be able to respond to someone during an atypical absence seizure.

 People who have atypical absences usually have learning disabilities, other seizure types, or other conditions that affect their brain.

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

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This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

We can provide references and information on the source material we use to write our epilepsy advice and information pages. 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

Comments: read the 3 comments or add yours


Very helpful website. 17 year old son diagnosed with epilepsy 1 week ago. All quite shocked in consultant appointment leaving little capacity to absorb information for any of us. Really helpful to read and take in information. He would like information on how many people have epilepsy as he feels quite isolated. He has tonic-clonic, so quite dramatic for him and others.

Submitted by Beverley Sayers on

I also find this site useful. My son has had epilepsy since he was 10 weeks old and was only diagnosed at 9 years old because the doctors thought his mother was neurotic! I have referred to this site in recent months and found it to be one of the best and straight forward information. My son is now 24 and I've never stopped asking questions.

Submitted by Elaine Thompson on

Hi Beverley

Thanks for your comments about our website. It’s always a shock to be told you have a medical condition, and being told you have epilepsy is no different. In fact, in the UK, around 600,000 people, or one in every 103 people has epilepsy. But with the right dose of the right epilepsy medicine, many people can have their seizures controlled.

It’s a lot to take in at the moment, but your son might find it useful to talk to other young people with epilepsy. He can do this by joining our on-line community, forum4e. You can also join forum4e, as a carer for your son. If he hasn’t done so already, your son might also like to look at our young people’s website.

If you, or your son, would like to speak to an epilepsy adviser, please contact the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050, or email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk


Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Kathy on

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