Types of Seizures
While all epileptic seizures are caused by electrical disturbances in the brain, there are many different kinds of seizures. Some children have just one type, others a combination. Children's behavior, risk of injury and treatment depend upon what kinds of seizures they have. Therefore, it is important to help your doctor identify your child's seizures.
Here are two charts that can help you do this:
One lists the kind of information about a seizure that can help identify it, such as if and how a child is moving and what the child's eyes, mouth and other parts of the body are doing. The other is a log where you can record important information about each seizure, such as how long it occurs for, what happens during it and how your child feels after. If your child is often with other caregivers or in school, you might want to give them these charts too.
For help tracking your child's seizures, visit seizuretracker.com.
The kind of seizure a child has depends on whether the whole brain is affected or just a certain part of it. The brain has billions of nerve cells that continually communicate with each other through tiny electrical charges. If too many of these cells fire together, the sudden burst of electrical energy can cause a seizure. There are two main kinds of seizures:
- Generalized seizures affect the whole brain
- Partial seizures affect only part of the brain
Sometimes the electrical disturbance starts in one part of the brain and then spreads; this is called a partial seizure secondarily generalized.
- Grand Mal or Generalized Tonic Clonic Seizures — Also known as a convulsion, this is the most common and easily recognized kind of generalized seizure. The child suddenly cries or screams, becomes stiff, falls, and then begins to move arms or legs in jerky, up-and-down or side-to-side movements. Skin may appear bluish, breathing can be shallow or stop briefly, and teeth are usually clenched tight. The child may wet or soil themselves due to a loss of bladder or bowel control. The seizure usually lasts a minute or two. Afterward, the child is often confused, may complain of sore muscles or a bitten tongue, and will typically fall into a deep sleep.
- Absence or Petit Mal Seizures — These seizures can easily be confused with daydreaming or not paying attention. However, the child is completely unconscious and cannot be alerted or woken up. It usually lasts only a few seconds, during which the child might stare blankly ahead, blink rapidly, or appear to be chewing. After it's over, the child will often seem completely normal.
- Atonic and Tonic Seizures — Also called “drop attack” seizures, these seizures are when the child suddenly collapses and falls. It can be from the body stiffening or the opposite — a complete loss of muscle tone. These seizures can cause injuries, including head injuries, because of the force of the fall. Therefore, doctors often recommend that children who get these kinds of seizures wear helmets while playing, especially outdoors. After an atonic or tonic seizure is over, usually in less than a minute, the child regains consciousness and awareness.
- Myoclonic Seizures — These are sudden, brief muscle jerks, usually affecting the child's neck, shoulders and upper arms. They can be fairly mild or strong enough to make a child fall. Theses seizures are most common in the morning and often occur in clusters (more than one). They can be frustrating, causing children to drop what they are holding, spill drinks, etc.
- Simple Partial Seizures — During these seizures, the child is aware of what is happening but can't control it. The seizure can cause uncontrolled movement of part of the body, things to smell or taste strange to the child, stomach pain, or sudden fear or anger.
- Complex Partial Seizures — These seizures vary, depending upon where in the brain they occur. The child may stare, chew, make odd movements, mumble, run, scream or even see things. These seizures sometimes occur when the child is sleeping. During a complex partial seizure, the child is unconscious and won't remember it after. Also called “automatisms,” they usually last one or two minutes, after which the child is often frightened or confused.
Most seizures last a few seconds or minutes. If seizures last longer, or occur one after another, there is an increased risk of status epilepticus, which means a continuous state of seizure. The First Aid section of this site has information on what to do if your child experiences a seizure or status epilepticus.