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Types of Seizures We Treat at the UPMC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center

Epilepsy is a chronic brain condition marked by recurrent seizures. It affects about 1% of all people in the U.S.

A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that alters how the brain cells exchange messages.

The symptoms of a seizure can vary greatly, based on which part of the brain it affects. They can range from a slight sensory change or feeling of déjà-vu to a convulsion.

    » Call the UPMC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center to make an appointment or learn more at 833-299-4320.

What Are the Different Types of Seizures?

Focal seizures start in one side of the brain. Generalized seizures quickly affect both sides of the brain at the same time.

A seizure can start as focal but later spread to the entire brain, causing a convulsion.

Doctors further break out focal and generalized seizures into different types to better describe what happens.

Types of focal seizures

  • Focal aware seizures: These seizures are the most common type for people with epilepsy. People are alert and aware.
  • Focal impaired awareness seizures: During this type of seizure, people are confused or unaware of their surroundings.  
  • Focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures: This type of seizure starts on one side of the brain, then spreads to both sides. During this type of seizure, people lose consciousness, fall, tense up and convulse (shake).

Symptoms of focal seizures may include:

  • Psychological symptoms (fear, anxiety, déjà-vu, sudden vague or specific emotions).
  • Strange sensation in the stomach.
  • Abrupt changes of sensations (auditory, visual, positional, somatosensory).
  • Change of heart rate and breathing.
  • Jerking or twitching movements.
  • Rarely, limp or weak muscles.

Types and symptoms of generalized seizures

  • Absence (or petit mal) — brief staring spells (10-30 seconds, unlike focal impaired awareness seizures which last 1-3 minutes).
  • Tonic-clonic (or grand mal) — convulsions.
  • Tonic — stiffening of the arms or legs.
  • Clonic — jerking or shaking of the arms or legs.
  • Atonic (or drop attack) — sudden loss of muscle strength or tone.
  • Myoclonic — brief, shock-like jerks of a group of muscles (mostly of the upper body).

Contact the UPMC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center

To make an appointment or learn more about epilepsy treatments, call 833-299-4320.

Kaufmann Medical Building
3471 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213