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Symptoms Of Epilepsy

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Updated May 21, 2014

Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent, disorganized, abnormal electrical firing in brain cells, which can disrupt normal functioning of the brain. This disruption can cause recurrent seizures, which is the main symptom of epilepsy. While these seizures are usually caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, they can manifest very differently from person to person. For instance, one type of seizure may cause a brief loss of consciousness, whereas another seizure type may cause uncontrollable jerking of the entire body.

Knowing the characteristic of your seizures is important because this will help your healthcare provider select the most appropriate treatment to manage your seizures. Most people suffering from epilepsy do not remember their seizures, or what was happening to them before their seizure occurred. In this case, it is important to involve family and friends to give an account of how your seizures presented and any other information related to it.

These are the most common symptoms experienced either before, or during, a seizure. Your symptoms will depend upon the type of seizures you are having, so you might not experience all of these symptoms:

Weakness

Weakness can occur in any seizure type and in any area of the body. For instance, weakness can either occur in an arm, a leg or both.

Anxiety

Anxiety is usually experienced in most seizure types and can signal a seizure is about to occur. In some types of seizures, anxiety, or an impending sense of doom, can be an aura, or a consistent symptom in a person right before they have a seizure.

Staring

Staring out into space is a symptom experienced by individuals who have absence seizures. Usually, these individuals appear to be briefly daydreaming when, in fact, they are actually experiencing a seizure. This usually only lasts for a few seconds and may be accompanied by blinking or repetitive movements, such as movement of the mouth or fingers.

Purposeless or Repetitive Movements

This can include actions such as picking lint off of a shirt, repetitive shifting, repetitive tapping of the fingers, repetitive chewing or repeating words. These movements can occur before a seizure occurs or during some seizures.

Loss of Consciousness

Some seizures may cause a loss of consciousness, which may last for a few seconds to hours.

Contraction, or Jerking, of Body Muscles

Usually when you think of seizures, the characteristic thought is that of every muscle contracting in the body. This is referred to as a grand mal seizure. However, involuntary muscle contractions can also occur in isolated areas of the body. For instance, muscle contractions in an arm may cause an object to crash to the ground. Muscle contractions in the legs may cause someone to drop to the ground, causing further injuries.

Source:

Braunwald E, Fauci ES, et al. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. 2005.

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