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Epilepsy & Seizures

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a disorder signified by abnormal electrical activity in the brain that causes repeated episodes of seizures. It affects more than 3 million people in the United States. While there are multiple types of seizures — some affecting the entire brain and some affecting only part — the basics of what happens are the same. During a seizure, more neurons in the affected area of the brain fire at the same time than is normal, and this surge of activity causes emotional and behavioral changes, involuntary movements, and loss of awareness, among other symptoms.

Two-thirds of epilepsy cases have unknown causes and are referred to as idiopathic or cryptogenic epilepsy. Known causes of epilepsy include:


Seizures are the primary symptom of epilepsy — specifically, seizures that occur in repeated episodes. Divided into three main categories, generalized, focal and unknown, each type of seizure has distinct symptoms. 

Some of the most common types include:

  • Grand mal, or generalized tonic-clonic, seizures — Affecting the whole brain, this type of seizure causes multiple symptoms, including muscles in the body becoming rigid, convulsions (shaking or jerking), and loss of consciousness. People affected may also bite their tongue, clench their jaw or lose control of their bladder.

  • Absence seizures — Previously known as petit mal seizures, these often occur in children and are characterized by staring into space or subtle body movements.

  • Focal, or partial, seizures — As the name states, this kind of seizure affects only part of the brain. Symptoms depend on where in the brain the seizure occurs. For example, the person affected may experience muscle contractions, staring spells accompanied by repetitive movements such as chewing or swallowing, or emotional or sensory changes, including hallucinations.

  • Atonic seizures — A form of generalized seizure, atonic seizures cause loss of muscle tone, causing those affected to involuntarily lose control of their muscles and even fall.

Aura Symptoms

Prior to a seizure (most often a focal seizure) some people experience a warning sign called an aura. This includes symptoms such as:

  • Changes in vision, including hallucinations

  • Dizziness and fainting

  • Emotional changes

  • Headaches

  • Numbness or tingling

  • Smelling odors that aren’t there

  • Vomiting

Treatment Options

Epilepsy treatment varies from patient to patient, and while medications control some patients’ seizures, others need more advanced treatments.

Treatment options for epilepsy at Temple include:

• Medications — Medications used to treat epilepsy include antiseizure or anticonvulsant medications, nerve pain medications and sedatives.

• Surgery — When doctors can determine which area of the brain causes the seizure, that area can be removed surgically if the procedure won’t interfere with important functions.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of epilepsy & seizures, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat epilepsy & seizures.