Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system. The disorder causes abnormal electrical activity throughout the brain, which most commonly leads to seizures.
Some individuals also experience unusual behavior, strange sensations or sensory input, and sometimes a brief and total loss of awareness. The condition can develop in anybody, and no gender or ethnicity seems more susceptible to epilepsy.
There are a wide range of symptoms associated with epilepsy because of the many ways seizure activity can affect the brain. To be diagnosed with epilepsy, generally individuals need to have a minimum of two unprovoked seizures.
Some medications can help control seizures, and surgery is sometimes an option. Children with epilepsy sometimes outgrow the disorder as they age, while some require treatment for their entire lives.
5 Signs and Symptoms of Epilepsy
Read about the signs and symptoms of epilepsy now.
1. Loss of Awareness or Consciousness
Epilepsy can affect anything an individual’s brain typically has control over. Some patients experience a loss of awareness or consciousness. Focal seizures occur when abnormal electrical activity affects just one portion of the brain.
A focal seizure with impaired awareness can cause a loss of awareness or consciousness. In the past, they’ve been called complex partial seizures. Patients who experience these seizures might stare blankly into space and fail to respond to external stimuli.
They won’t respond normally to the environment and may perform strange and repetitive movements. Some common movements include walking in circles, swallowing, chewing, and hand rubbing.
When seizures involve all parts of the brain, they’re called generalized seizures (of which there are many subtypes). Absence seizures occur commonly in children, and they typically cause patients to stare into space and make subtle movements like lip smacking or eye blinking. Absence seizures typically cause a very short loss of awareness.
Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as grand mal seizures, can cause affected individuals to abruptly lose consciousness. They also present with shaking and tremors, and they sometimes include a loss of bladder control.
2. Temporary Confusion
Temporary confusion is one of the common signs of epilepsy, and it may occur before, during, or following a seizure. Individuals who experience confusion before a seizure may be able to realize more serious seizure symptoms are on the way.
Seizures can sometimes cause temporary confusion even if they don’t cause a total loss of consciousness. One type of seizure is a focal seizure without loss of consciousness, otherwise known as a simple partial seizure.
These may alter the patient’s emotions and make them confused. They may also cause individuals to experience confusing sensory hallucinations that don’t actually exist.
Patients are also often confused when they come out of a seizure. It helps to have someone calmly explain where they are and what’s happened.
If the confusion lasts for a long time, the patient should seek medical help, but typical confusion will subside within a matter of seconds or just a few minutes. If individuals see someone have a seizure, they can sit with them and help them with the confusion.
3. Fear or Anxiety
Many psychological and neurological conditions can cause unexplained fear or anxiety, and epilepsy is just one of them. A focal seizure without loss of consciousness can affect an individual’s emotional processing.
They may have wild mood swings or experience panic, fear, anxiety, or other negative emotions. Some patients also report having an overpowering sense of deja vu during these seizures.
Most individuals with epilepsy experience the same types of seizures, so they can become familiar with the emotional effects they have. It’s also common for patients to feel frightened or anxious after they return to consciousness following a seizure.
Having someone around who is calm and can help them is very helpful. If individuals experience sudden panic or fear without any apparent cause, but don’t have any other seizure symptoms, it’s possible they may have a panic disorder or other anxiety disorder.
Several neurological conditions can affect the way an individual’s brain processes emotions. Patients should talk to a doctor to get further testing and a diagnosis.
4. Staring Spells
Staring spells are a lesser-known indication of a seizure. While they aren’t as dramatic as muscle convulsions, they do indicate abnormal electrical activity is taking place in the brain.
Generally, the individual experiencing the seizure won’t respond to outside stimuli like voices or sights, though they may engage in involuntary, repetitive movements without being aware of their bodies.
The staring spell will often end with the patient coming back to awareness. In some cases, they may not realize they’ve lost consciousness at all. The majority of staring spells don’t last for more than a few seconds, and they can be so mild they’re unrecognizable.
Some individuals may be misdiagnosed with psychiatric conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which cause a loss of focus and concentration.
Staring spells might also be mistaken for catatonia, a psychiatric condition that often accompanies schizophrenia. If the affected individual experiences sensory hallucinations, this also makes them more likely to be misdiagnosed.
Because the symptoms of seizures can be easily mistaken for something else, it’s important to have extensive testing and a knowledgeable doctor.
5. Uncontrollable Jerking or Twitching
Uncontrollable jerking is one of the most recognizable signs of epilepsy. Some individuals will retain consciousness throughout this, while others don’t. With a grand mal seizure, patients lose consciousness and experience full-body convulsions. With a tonic seizure, their muscles are affected.
The muscles suddenly become stiff, and some individuals fall onto the ground. This type of seizure usually affects the leg, arm, and back muscles. With an atonic seizure, affected individuals lose total control in their muscles and fall to the ground.
A clonic seizure occurs when there are rhythmic or repeated jerking movements of the muscles. It’s most common for clonic seizures to affect the arms, face, and neck. With a myoclonic seizure, the symptoms involve a sudden and brief jerking or twitching of the legs and arms.
Contrary to popular belief, patients having a grand mal seizure are not in danger of biting out their tongues, and other individuals should not put anything in their mouths.