What is a Seizure?

A seizure is an electrical disturbance in the brain caused by brain cells firing in a highly rhythmic fashion. The kind of seizure a person has depends on which part and how much of the brain is affected by the electrical disturbance.

Different parts of the brain are specialized to do different things. There are parts of the brain that help us speak, understand those around us, and coordinate our movements. Our brains are involved in everything we experience, think, say, feel or do. Any one of these functions can be altered or disrupted during a seizure. A seizure may take many different forms, including a blank stare, uncontrolled movements, altered awareness, odd sensations, or convulsions.

Seizures are usually brief and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The brain is very good at stopping seizure activity. Immediately afterwards, a person may have no lingering effects or they could experience temporary effects, such as muscle weakness or confusion.

Seizure Categories

Seizures are divided into three main categories: Focal Onset, Generalized Onset, or Unknown onset. The category is determined by the location of the seizure activity within the brain at the beginning of the seizure.

Seizures may also be described as either motor or nonmotor, depending on whether or not muscle movement is involved.

The description of what happens during the seizure, along with any changes that happen before or after the seizure, are important features used by a healthcare provider to determine the seizure category and the seizure type. The duration of the seizure is another important feature.

Important Facts to Remember

Although seizures look different, they have certain things in common:

  • During a seizure, a person may stop breathing for only a few seconds.
  • Most seizures only last 1-2 minutes, although the person may be confused for a long time afterwards.
  • The brain almost always stops the seizures safely and naturally.
  • Once a seizure has begun, you cannot stop it – just let it run its course.
  • Only in emergencies, doctors use drugs to bring a non-stop seizure to an end.
  • People don’t feel pain during a seizure, although muscles might be sore afterwards.
  • Seizures are usually not life threatening, but the risk is increased in seniors by the extra strain on the heart, the possibility of injury, or a reduced intake of oxygen.
  • Seizures are not dangerous or contagious to others.