Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in the US. The condition is related to the malfunctioning of certain nerve cells in the brain, which cause seizures and affect your behavior and perception for some time. Generally, seizures are categorized into two forms – focal and generalized. Below is a brief guide to the different types of seizures that fall under these two categories.

Focal Seizures

These start in a specific part of the brain and can cause both physical and emotional effects. In some cases, focal seizures may make you hallucinate and feel or hear things that are not there as well. Doctors at low-income medical clinics divide focal seizures into three groups:

  • Simple focal seizures – These affect how you usually sense things and can cause twitching of the fingers, arms, or legs, or make you smell or taste strange sensations. You may also feel sweaty, nauseated, and dizzy or see flashes of light, but will not lose consciousness.
  • Complex focal seizures – These affect the areas of the brain that control memory and emotion. You may lose consciousness but will look awake and may even smile, laugh, or cry. On average, this type of focal seizures may last for 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Secondary generalized seizures – These affect both the sides of your brain. They typically start at one part of the brain and gradually spread to the nerve cells on both sides. These can cause the same physical symptoms as that seen in generalized seizures.

Generalized Seizures

These happen when the nerve cells on both the right and left hemispheres of the brain start misfiring. Generalized seizures usually lead to muscle spasms, falls, and unconsciousness. Doctors at low-income medical clinic categorize these into six groups:

  • Tonic-clonic seizures – These make your body to stiffen, or cause jerks and shakes, before you lose consciousness. They may cause involuntary bladder or bowel discharge as well, or lead to breathing troubles.
  • Clonic seizures – These cause muscle spasms, generally in the face, neck, and arm. You may experience these muscle jerks rhythmically.
  • Tonic seizures – These lead to the tensing of the muscles in your arms, legs, or trunk. They can also happen when you are asleep.
  • Atonic seizures – These cause a sudden limping of your muscles and may make your head lean forward. They may cause abrupt falls and can lead to many injuries.
  • Myoclonic seizures – These make your muscles jerk suddenly as if you have been electrocuted. They are common in people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome but can happen with any kind of epilepsy.
  • Absence seizures – These cause a sudden disconnection from the world around you. They are more common in children under the age of 14.
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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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