Repeated seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy and these are classified by how much of the brain is affected. 'Partial seizures' affect only a small part of the brain while 'Generalised seizures' affect all or most of the brain.
Partial seizures are grouped into two types: 'simple partial seizure' and 'complex partial seizure'. When a simple partial seizure occurs the person remains conscious whereas a complex partial seizure causes partial unconsciousness or complete loss of consciousness with no memory of the event.
Simple partial seizure symptoms include:
- Changes to the way things appear (look, smell, taste and sound)
- Déjà vu (a feeling that events have occurred before)
- High emotion (fear, joy etc.)
- Stiff muscles (particularly in the face, legs or arms)
- Muscle twitching along one side of the body
Complex partial seizure symptoms include:
- Lip smacking
- Rubbing hands together
- Making random verbal noises
- Moving arms about
- Unresponsive to others
- Memory loss of the event
Generalised seizures have six main types: absences, myoclonic jerks, clonic seizure, atonic seizure, tonic seizure and tonic-clonic seizure. While the pattern of seizure symptoms remain the same (known as epilepsy syndrome), people can experience any of these six types.Absences
– This occurs mainly in children whereby the child briefly loses awareness of their surroundings (typically 5-20 seconds). Absences can happen several times in one day and may be accompanied by lip smacking or eye fluttering as the child stares inattentively ahead.Myoclonic jerks
– This type of seizure lasts a split second and causes involuntary jerks or twitches of the upper body or legs. A person remains conscious during a seizure of this type.Clonic seizure
– Similar to the above but with a loss of consciousness and symptoms lasting up to two minutes.Atonic seizure
– Complete relaxation of the muscles occur during this seizure causing the individual to slump to the ground if standing.Tonic seizure
– The opposite to the above, this seizure causes muscle stiffness accompanied by balance problems which may cause the person to fall over.Tonic-clonic seizure
– A two stage seizure beginning with stiffness all over the body followed by twitching in the arms and legs. This seizure can last for 1-3 minutes with a loss of consciousness and possible involuntary urination. This type of seizure is the most common and often referred to as an 'epileptic fit'.
People who suffer with epilepsy often have warning signs of an imminent seizure which is described as auras. The symptoms of which may include:
- Strange smells or taste
- Déjà vu
- Feeling detached from surroundings
- Strange bodily sensations
Acting on these auras gives the person time to alert others that a seizure is about to happen or gives them time to move into a safe position so as not to harm themselves. However, it will not prevent the seizure occurring.