Types of Seizures

Tonic Clonic (formerly called Grand Mal)

  • A sudden cry, fall or slump, and loss of consciousness.
  • Stiffening of the body followed by convulsions of the entire body as the muscles alternately contract and relax.
  • As air is forced out of the body and through the mouth saliva may develop at corners of the mouth and it may be tinged with blood if the tongue has been bitten.
  • Breathing may be shallow or temporarily stop and may cause the skin to become bluish. As breathing resumes it may appear labored or sound as if the person is choking.
  • Involuntary muscle contractions may also result in loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Usually lasts less than 5 minutes,
  • Muscle spasms slowly subside.
  • Consciousness slowly returns.
  • During recovery period the person will be tired and disoriented and may not be able to communicate. The person frequently will have incomplete or no memory of the seizure and even sometimes of the events prior to the seizure. The person may be easily upset or frightened during this period. The person may need to rest or sleep after the seizure.

Absence (formerly called Petit Mal)

  • Occurs more frequently in children.
  • Sudden brief loss of consciousness lasting 2-10 seconds
  • Person does not fall down.
  • Blank stare or eyes may blink and may be slight muscle movements around the mouth—may be misinterpreted as daydreaming. No recovery period, person is able to resume full activities immediately but will have no memory of what occurred during the seizure.

Partial seizures are seizures that affect only part of the brain

Focal Impaired Awareness (formerly known as Complex Partial)

  • 2 – 4 minutes, occasionally longer.
  • Loss of awareness of surroundings.
  • May start with a blank stare and chewing movements or twitching movements of the face.
  • Communication may be entirely blocked or may understand spoken word and be unable to respond.
  • May mumble or repeat a phrase.
  • Actions or movements are disorganized or purposeless; may make repeated movements with a part of the body or pick at clothing.
  • May wander without regard to location or obstacles.
  • Less frequently behavior may involve screaming, crying, moaning, running, fear, laughing, disrobing, loss of bladder control, abusive language, and spitting. The common characteristics are that the behaviors lack control and are not directed.
  • The seizure is followed by a recovery period of up to 30 minutes which is characterized by confusion and slow return to complete awareness.

Focal Aware (formerly known as Simple Partial)

  • Very brief, usually no longer than 10 – 15 seconds.
  • No loss of consciousness or awareness.
  • May be either sensory or motor.
  • A change in any of the senses (vision, hearing, smell, touch, or taste) or perception—i.e. room suddenly appears to elongate, sound of a bell, smell of burnt toast, a tingling in one area, sour taste, or an unexplained emotion.
  • Change in motor activity or movement, usually isolated to one group of muscles—i.e. jerking of a limb
  • No recovery period.

First Aid for Seizures


For the majority of people, seizures can be controlled by anti-convulsant medication(s). In fact, medication helps 50% of those diagnosed with epilepsy achieve complete control of their seizures. Thirty per cent (30%) achieve good control with medication(s), experiencing only occasional seizures. In some cases, it may be more difficult to achieve total or partial control of the seizures, and these individuals may decide to look at surgical and other health alternatives.

Enhancing Well-Being

There is much that can be done to minimize the negative impact that epilepsy may have, while maintaining or enhancing an overall sense of well-being. For example, a balanced diet, adequate sleep and exercise, and avoiding excessive intake of alcohol are all steps a person can take to work towards optimal health and well-being.

Be aware that stress can trigger seizures, and as much possible, try to reduce or eliminate stressors that may trigger your seizures. If you are uncertain of your stressors, keeping a daily journal recording of your activities, events, thoughts, feelings, habits, etc., may help you begin to identify them.

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