Types of Epilepsy Advanced Neurosurgery Associates May 30, 2024

Types of Epilepsy

Epilepsy symptoms vary from person to person; some people may have simple staring spells, while others have violent shaking and loss of alertness.

The type of seizure depends on the part of the brain affected, as well as the cause of epilepsy. It is possible for a person to have more than one type of epilepsy seizure.


The seizures can last up to a few minutes, although the CDC recommends calling an ambulance if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes. Contact our clinic if you need advice.

Specific Types of Seizures

These types of seizures typically affect both sides of the brain, and present themselves in many different forms of seizures:

  • Absence (previously called petit-mal)
  • Atonic
  • Tonic
  • Clonic
  • Myoclonic
  • Tonic-clonic (previously called grand-mal)

A petit mal seizure describes a type of seizure that most commonly resembles a staring spell. It is often referred to as an absence seizure because it disturbs brain activity in a way that leads to the “absence” of behavior.

It is a brief, usually less than 15 seconds, disturbance of brain function due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Absence seizures can be further specified as typical, atypical, or myoclonic.

Petit mal seizures often occur in people under 20 years of age, usually in children ages 6 to 12. They may also occur with other types of seizures, twitches (myoclonus), or the loss of muscle strength (atonic seizures).

A generalized tonic-clonic seizure is a seizure that involves the entire body. The terms seizure, convulsion, or epilepsy are most often associated with generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

Generalized tonic-clonic seizures may occur in people of any age. They may occur as a single episode, or as part of a repeated, chronic condition.

Signs of this type of epilepsy include:

  • Crying out
  • Falling over
  • Muscle jerks, spasms or stiffness
  • Losing consciousness.

All seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Partial (focal) seizures occur when this electrical activity remains in a limited area of the brain.

Partial seizures can be simple — not affecting awareness or memory – or complex— affecting awareness of events before, during, and immediately after the seizure, as well as affecting behavior.

The different degrees of this type of seizure are explained below:

  • In some cases, this type of seizure only affects a small part of the brain, known as a simple focal seizure. Signs include twitching and changes in sensation, such as smell or taste. The person is usually aware during the seizure.
  • In the case of a complex focal seizure, a person may become confused or dazed, and unable to respond for a few minutes. You might also hear the terms ‘focal impaired awareness seizures’ or ‘complex partial seizures.’
  • The seizures can sometimes turn into generalized seizures, which affect the whole brain. This is called secondary generalization.

You might also hear them classified as:

  • Motor focal seizures
  • Sensory focal seizures
  • Autonomic focal seizures
  • Psychological focal seizures