Types of epileptic seizures

Types of epileptic seizures

Types of seizures - what you might see and/or what your child might feel.

Key points to remember about types of seizures

  • even though your child experiences their own particular kind of seizure, seizure types can change from time to time
  • a child can have more than one kind of seizure

What are the different types of seizures?

There are many different types of seizures. What you see and what your child might feel before and during a seizure depends on the part of the brain the seizure involves. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what seizure type your child is having. 

For information about what to do when your child has a seizure, see Seizure first aid.

What are focal seizures?

Focal aware seizure

Your child will be completely aware during this seizure. They may have an unusual feeling inside, feel unusual sensations or see funny things. They may have jerking of just one part of their body. These seizures usually last less than 2 minutes.

Focal impaired awareness seizure

Your child may have similar features to a focal aware seizure but they then lose awareness and cannot respond to questions or commands normally. They may just stare ahead. These seizures usually last for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. After the seizure, your child may be confused or tired and want to sleep for several hours.

Focal to bilateral tonic clonic seizure

These seizures start like focal aware and impaired awareness seizures but then go on to involve shaking of the whole body. These seizures usually last less than 5 minutes. After the seizure, your child may be confused or tired and want to sleep for several hours

What are generalised seizures?

Absence seizure

Your child will suddenly stop what they are doing. They will not respond appropriately to questions or commands. Tickling them does not result in a normal response. They may just stare ahead and have eye blinking. These seizures are brief lasting between 5 and 45 seconds. When the seizure is over your child will simply carry on doing what they were doing before it started. They will not be confused or tired after the seizure but may wonder what just happened.

Myoclonic seizure

Sometimes when your child goes to sleep at night they can have sleep jerks - this is normal. Myoclonic seizures look like these jerks but happen when your child is awake. They are more likely to happen in the morning and are brief rapid jerks of the whole body which last less than a second.

Generalised tonic clonic seizure

Your child will suddenly with no warning become stiff all over. If standing they will fall to the ground. After a brief period of time (1 to 15 seconds) they will start to have jerking of their whole body and their limbs. At first this may be small fast jerking but it becomes larger slower jerks. At the end of this seizure the jerking will stop and you may hear a big sigh and noisy funny breathing. Your child will be confused and sleepy for several hours.

Tonic seizure

Your child will suddenly and with no warning become stiff all over. If standing they will fall to the ground. These seizures will last from several seconds to minutes. When the seizure is over your child may be sleepy. 

Atonic seizure

Your child will suddenly and with no warning fall to the ground - they will be very floppy during the fall and may injure themselves. These seizures can be very brief and your child may quickly get up and carry on.

The content on this page has been developed and approved by the Paediatric Neurology Clinical Network, Paediatric Society New Zealand.

This page last reviewed 25 June 2018.
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