Symptoms & Causes of Epilepsy

Spot the Signs of Epilepsy

Epilepsy Symptoms

Symptoms will vary depending on the types of seizures you are experiencing.

Typical and Atypical Absence seizure symptoms:

  • Suddenly remaining very still
  • Staring blankly
  • Unresponsive
  • Chewing, biting, or smacking the lips
  • Fluttering eyelids or rapidly blinking
  • Rubbing hands or fingers together
  • Pulling on or rubbing clothing

How are atypical absence seizures different from typical absense seizures?

  • Atypical absence seizures have a slower/ gradual onset and end of symptoms
  • Typical absence seizure symptoms begin and end abruptly
  • Atypical absence seizure symptoms last longer than typical absense seizures
  • Falling is more common for atypical absence seizures

Tonic seizure symptoms:

  • Stiffening of limbs
  • Uncontrollable noise or scream
  • Tightening chest muscles
  • Arched back
  • Eyes rolling back
  • Blue skin due to lack of oxygen

Clonic seizure symptoms:

  • Repeated jerking of the limbs
  • Loss of consciousness (if generalized)
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Confusion or sleepiness

Tonic-clonic or convulsive seizure symptoms:

  • Convulsive shaking
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Muscle jerking and stiffening
  • Tonic seizure symptoms followed by clonic seizure symptoms

Atonic seizure symptoms:

  • Loss of muscle control
  • Slumping head or body
  • Falling 
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Jerking

Myoclonic seizure symptoms: 

  • Brief twitching or jerking of muscles 
  • Shock-like sensations
  • Generally localized (i.e. arms, legs, extremities)
  • Person remains conscious

Simple partial seizure symptoms (preferably called Focal Aware Seizures) 

  • Commonly described as an “aura”
  • Change in feeling, vision, smell, hearing, and taste
  • Déjà vu
  • Jerking muscles in the face or a limb
  • Sudden emotional changes
  • Difficulty with speech, hearing, or vision
  • Emotional changes
  • No loss of consciousness
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Increase in blood pressure or heart rate
  • Hallucinations

Complex partial seizure symptoms (preferably called Focal Impaired Awareness Seizures):

  • Loss of awareness or consciousness
  • Blank stare
  • Chewing or smacking lips
  • Repeating words
  • Sudden emotional changes
  • Grasping the air or clothes

Phases of Seizures

There are three phases of seizures: aura, ictus, and postictal. As previously described aura’s are focal aware seizures that can cause changes in smell, taste, vision, emotion, and/or feeling. They can be a precursor of tonic-clonic seizures. The phase of the active seizure is called the ictal phase (ictus), the symptoms will depend on the type of seizure.

Postictal State Symptoms
“Post” = after | “ictal”= seizure

Following an epileptic seizure there is a period of disorientation and altered consciousness, known as the postictal state. Symptoms that may be experienced in this state include:

  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory gaps
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Hearing or vision loss

Don’t let epilepsy and seizures steal your time, body, and energy. Let us help you take control of your life again.

Understanding the signs of epilepsy will help expedite the process to establish a proper diagnosis and treatment. Knowing your unique symptoms may give you time to take precautionary measures prior to experiencing an attack. Our epilepsy team performs neurological examinations, blood tests, EEGs (Electroencephalogram), MRIs, or CT scans to pinpoint the exact cause of your seizures and develop the safest treatment options. If you suspect you have epilepsy and would like to talk with an epilepsy specialists about your symptoms contact us today.

Epilepsy Causes

What are the causes of Epilepsy?

In around 50 percent of cases, epilepsy does not have a specific cause. For the remaining 50 percent, causes may include:


Certain genetic mutations can increase the risk of epilepsy. The mutations usually affect the way the neurons are stimulated. However, even people who have this type of genetic mutation still may not develop epilepsy. Having a genetic predisposition causes epilepsy in 30-40% of all cases.

Head trauma

In some cases, epilepsy can be a result of an injury to the head. For example, after an auto accident or a fall.

Brain Disorders

Disorders such as stroke or brain tumors can result in epileptic seizures. Older people often experience epileptic seizures after a stroke.


Epilepsy can be caused by infections which affect the central nervous system, such as HIV, tuberculosis, and bacterial meningitis.

Prenatal conditions

Brain damage to prenatal babies can cause epilepsy. Damage may be a result of oxygen deficiency, maternal infection, or inadequate nutrition.

Alcohol withdrawal

alcohol is a depressant which means it decreases neuron firing in the brain. Excessive drinking leads to alcohol tolerance which means the brain changes the natural state of neurons to be more positive (excitatory). When alcohol is no longer used, now without this depressant, the neurons are extremely positive (excitatory). Due to the increased neurotransmission, one symptom of alcohol withdrawal is seizures. Some studies have demonstrated that alcohol withdrawal seizures combined with genetic predisposition for epilepsy may lead to the development of seizure disorders.

What are the Epilepsy triggers?

A trigger is something that can bring on a seizure. Epileptic seizure triggers vary from person to person. Some common triggers include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Not taking epilepsy medication regularly
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Flashing lights

What are the Epilepsy risk factors?

  • Premature birth and low birth weight
  • Abnormal blood cells in the brain
  • Environmental toxins, such as lead
  • A family history of epilepsy
  • Substance abuse
  • Brain tumors
  • Stroke
  • Head trauma
  • Autism spectrum disorder