Seizures take many forms. Before your doctor can prescribe the right treatment, he or she must figure out which type (or types) you have. That's the purpose of all the tests discussed in the Diagnosis section—not just to tell whether you have epilepsy, but also to tell what kind.

Commonly Used Names for Seizure Types

Seizures are generally described in two major groups of seizures, primary generalized seizures and partial seizures. The difference between these types is in how and where they begin. A new way of naming seizures has been developed by epilepsy specialists, but most often these common names are still used.

Primary generalized seizures

Primary generalized seizures begin with a widespread electrical discharge that involves both sides of the brain at once. Hereditary factors are important in many of these seizures.

Partial seizures

Partial seizures begin with an electrical discharge in one limited area of the brain. Many different things can cause partial seizures, for example head injury, brain infection, stroke, tumor, or changes in the way an area of the brain was formed before birth (called cortical dysplasias). Many times, no known cause is found, but genetic factors may be important in some partial seizures.

Partial seizures can be broken down further, depending on whether a person's awareness or consciousness (the ability to respond and remember) is affected.

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD
Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD on 11/2013
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