What is a seizure?

Very simply, a seizure is a clinical event resulting from abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The brain cells become overactive and emit increased electrical signals.

When most people hear the word “seizure,” they think about a person having a large, dramatic, full body convulsion. While these types of convulsions can occasionally occur, the majority of seizures do not actually result in convulsions. There are many, many different types of seizures. In fact, there are an infinite number of possibilities. Therefore, we typically classify seizures into a few different types.

We typically refer to seizures as either “simple” or “complex.”

If there is any loss of consciousness, loss of awareness, or confusion associated with a seizure, then it is referred to as a complex seizure.

If the person having the seizure maintains complete awareness and never loses any of their mental faculties, then the seizure is referred to as simple seizure.

We also describe seizures as “general” or “partial.”

If a person has a generalized seizure, that means that their entire brain is suffering from the seizure.

A partial seizure occurs when only one part of the brain is suffering from the seizure.

Using this naming system, we can say that someone had a “complex-partial” seizure which means that the seizure activity only affected a part of the brain but also resulted in an alteration of consciousness. This is actually the most common type of seizure. Often times, there are no outward signs of seizure other than confusion or loss of awareness. These seizures can be very difficult to diagnose and, thus, require the skills of a good neurologist to make an accurate diagnosis. These seizures are commonly misdiagnosed as a “TIA” (but that’s another subject for another day).

Likewise, a person could have a “simple-partial” seizure that results in neurological dysfunction depending on the area of the brain affected by the seizure. For example, if the seizure happens in the area of the brain that controls arm movements, then a person could have shaking of the arm. If the simple partial seizure occurs in the area of the brain that controls sensation in the foot, then a person could have tingling or buzzing in the foot. A simple partial seizure could happen in the area of the brain that controls language which would result in a person being unable to talk or understand.

As you can see, seizures are very complicated clinical entities and I have only just scratched the surface of all the things that must be considered when evaluating a patient for seizure. Seizures can confuse and bewilder even very skilled doctors leading to misdiagnosis. This is why all patients with seizures should be evaluated by a neurologist that has been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of seizures. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact my office.