Seizures: What You Need to Know

A seizure is a brief episode of altered consciousness caused by sudden, excessive electrical discharges in the brain. Epilepsy is a condition that is characterized by recurrent seizures, but not all seizures are related to epilepsy. Seizures can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of seizure experienced. Knowing the signs and symptoms of different types of seizures and the necessary steps to take in the event of a seizure can help you better understand this condition and respond quickly and appropriately if a seizure occurs.

What Causes Seizures?

Seizures occur because of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, but the cause of this can vary from case to case. In some cases, the cause may be unknown. Possible causes include:

  • Head trauma
  • Brain infection
  • Brain tumor
  • Structural brain disorders, such as stroke
  • Exposure to toxins or drugs
  • Genetic predisposition

Types of Seizures

There are several types of seizures, ranging from mild to severe. These include:

  • Generalized tonic-clonic seizures (formerly known as grand mal seizures)
  • Partial (or focal) seizures
  • Absence seizures (formerly known as petit mal seizures)
  • Myoclonic seizures
  • Clonic seizures
  • Tonic seizures
  • Atonic seizures (formerly known as drop attacks)

What to Do in the Event of a Seizure

If you witness someone having a seizure, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Stay calm.
  • Move the person away from any dangerous objects, such as furniture or stairs.
  • Position the person on the ground on his or her side and cushion the head.
  • Loosen any tight clothing.
  • Do not put anything in the person’s mouth.
  • Clear the area of onlookers.
  • Time the seizure.
  • Call medical help if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if the person is injured or pregnant.

Risk Factors

People of any age, gender, or race can develop epilepsy, but there are a few risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the condition:

  • Family history
  • Head trauma
  • Brain infection
  • Low birth weight
  • Stroke or brain tumor
  • Exposure to toxins or drugs


Seizures can be a very frightening experience, but with the right knowledge and response steps, you can be prepared to help someone who is experiencing a seizure. Making sure to be aware of the possible causes, knowing the different types of seizures, and being ready to respond in the event of a seizure can help you best handle the situation. Speak with your doctor to learn more and find the appropriate treatment for any seizure disorder.