Signs and Symptoms

Most children with epilepsy experience more than one type of seizure. The two types of seizures are generalized or partial, depending on the part of the brain where a seizure is triggered.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures result from electrical impulses arising from the entire brain. They typically occur without warning. There are six types of generalized seizures.

  • Tonic-clonic ("grand-mal" seizure) — Your child will lose consciousness and may also collapse. The child's body becomes stiff and begins jerking. Finally, your child will fall into a deep sleep. During grand-mal seizures, injuries such as tongue-biting can occur, as well as a loss of bladder control.
  • Absence seizure ("petit mal" seizure) — Your child will lose awareness and stare blankly for a few seconds. Usually, there are no other symptoms. These seizures may occur several times a day.
  • Myoclonic seizure — Your child's body may jerk, as if being shocked by electricity. The jerks can range from a single muscle to the entire body jerking.
  • Clonic seizure — Both sides of your child's body jerk rhythmically at the same time.
  • Tonic seizure — Your child's muscles suddenly become very stiff.
  • Atonic or akinetic seizure — During this kind of seizure, the muscles will relax, particularly in the arms and legs, which can cause children to suddenly fall and often times, injure themselves.

Partial Seizures

Partial seizures, also known as local or focal seizures, originate from activity in a smaller part of the brain. They are divided into simple and complex seizures, as well as those that evolve from partial-onset seizures into generalized tonic-clonic seizures. The difference between simple and complex seizures is that during simple partial seizures, your child will retain awareness. During complex partial seizures, your child will lose awareness.

  • Simple partial seizure — Your child may experience movements such as jerking or stiffening, various sensations, peculiar memories such as a feeling of "deja-vu" or various emotions. Full consciousness is retained.
  • Complex partial seizure — Same as a simple partial seizure except that your child's awareness is impaired and they may appear to be "out of touch" or "spaced out." They also may involuntarily chew, walk, fidget, or perform other repetitive movements or simple actions.
  • Secondarily generalized seizure — If a partial seizure evolves into a tonic-clonic ("grand mal") seizure, it's known as a secondarily generalized seizure.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Pediatric Brain Center

Pediatric Epilepsy Center of Excellence
1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2437
Fax: (415) 353-2400
Appointment information

Neurosurgery Clinic
1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor, 5A
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-7500
Fax: (415) 353-2889
Appointment information

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