Epileptic Seizures

Epileptic seizures are caused by rhythmic electrical discharges of brain cells. When only a small area of the cortex (higher part of the human brain) is involved in the beginning of the seizures, it is termed "partial onset." When the entire cortex is involved in the beginning of the seizures, it is termed "generalized onset."

Most people with epilepsy have more than one type of seizure over the course of their illness. Accurate seizure diagnosis is necessary in order to achieve the best epilepsy treatment.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized Seizures impact the whole brain and include types of seizures such as:

Grand Mal Seizures

Grand Mal Seizures, (or tonic-clonic), can start either as partial or as generalized onset, but in either case involve complete loss of consciousness and jerking movements of the entire body.

Petit Mal Seizures

Petit Mal Seizures (or Absence Seizures), do not cause unconsciousness, but symptoms may include staring into space, facial twitches, eye blinking and repetitive movements. Children who have these seizures are often thought to be daydreaming.

Partial Seizures

Partial Seizures affect only one part of the brain and include types of seizures such as:

  • Simple Partial Seizures occur while the person is awake and symptoms may include spasms or contractions of a specific body part, nausea, and abnormal sensations.
  • Complex Partial Seizures may cause the person to be in an "otherworldly" state, fluttering in and out of consciousness.
  • Other symptoms include abnormal sensations, inappropriate emotions and random actions.

Non-epileptic Seizures

Non-epileptic seizures can be caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, sleep disorders, psychological disturbances, and various other brain disturbances. Non-epileptic seizures are not caused by epileptic, electrical discharges of brain cells. For many patients epileptic seizures and non-epileptic seizures cause the same types of feelings, movements and other behaviors, but EEG recordings can distinguish epileptic from non-epileptic seizures. Such EEG recordings usually are performed with continuous video recording at the same time, in an Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.

Many patients have a combination of epileptic seizures and non-epileptic seizures. Video-EEG monitoring can be used to show which seizures should be treated with epilepsy medications, and which seizures are non-epileptic and require a different form of treatment. A high degree of expertise is necessary to interpret Video-EEG recordings correctly - the expertise of advanced training and years of experience such as that represented by the staff of the Emory Epilepsy Center.