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Learning Centre

Types of seizures

The two main types of seizures are generalized and partial. When the abnormal electrical signals occur in the whole brain, the seizure is called generalized.  When the abnormal electrical signals occur in one part of the brain, the seizure is called partial. The following chart outlines the different seizure types.

Type of Seizure: Generalized tonic/clonic (previously called grand mal)

Characteristics: 

  • Convulsive
  • Sudden hoarse cry
  • Fall
  • Unconscious
  • Rigid body initially
  • Muscular jerks
  • Shallow breathing that may stop momentarily
  • Bluish skin
  • Typically lasts no more than a couple of minutes

What to do: 

  • Remain calm
  • Loosen any restrictive clothing
  • Remove objects in the immediate area that may harm or injure the person
  • Turn the person to their side if possible
  • Once the seizure has ended, help them become reoriented
  • If a seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or if they occur repeatedly call an ambulance
  • Do NOT try to restrain the person

Type of Seizure: Absence  (previously called petit mal)

Characteristics: 

  • Non-convulsive
  • Blank stare
  • Lasts several seconds
  • Unaware of surrounding
  • Quickly returns to awareness
  • May be accompanied by rapid blinking and/or chewing movements

What to do: 

  • None necessary

Type of Seizure: Simple Partial

Characteristics: 

  • Non-convulsive
  • Jerking in one area of the body
  • Awake but cannot stop the seizure
  • May spread to another area of the body
  • Can become a convulsive seizure
  • May have distorted senses (seeing, hearing, smelling things that aren’t there)

What to do: 

  • None necessary unless it becomes convulsive
  • Provide reassurance and emotional support

Type of Seizure: Complex Partial

Characteristics: 

  • Unaware of surroundings, but conscious
  • Generally starts with a black start
  • Chewing motion
  • Random activity such as picking at clothing or other objects
  • Actions appear with each seizure
  • Lasts a few minutes
  • Post seizure period is one of confusion and can be lengthy

What to do: 

  • Remain calm
  • Provide reassurance and emotional support
  • Explain to others what is happening
  • Guide individual away from potential hazards
  • Stay with the person until complete awareness returns
  • Do NOT try to restrain the person

Type of Seizure: Atonic/Drop Attacks

Characteristics: 

  • Sudden collapse and fall, usually forward
  • Recovery is usually regained with 1-2 minutes

What to do: 

  • None needed unless the individual was hurt during the fall

Type of Seizure: Myoclonic

Characteristics: 

  • Sudden and brief
  • Massive muscle jerks
  • May involve parts of, or the whole body

What to do: 

  • None needed