The Different Types Of Epilepsy – Understanding The Condition

Epilepsy is a state of frequent involuntary muscular contractions (seizures) that occur due to underlying focal or general neurological defects. The electrical fluctuations in discrete areas of the brain trigger contractions in the muscles that are controlled by that particular part of the brain. For this reason, there are different types of epilepsy as well as the causes of epilepsy span a great range.

types of epilepsy

Grand Mal epilepsy is one of the types of epilepsy and it is characterized by severe headaches and muscle pain.

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition and it is characterized by recurrent, unexpected seizures. It may affect people from all age groups, ranging from children to the elderly. About 5-10 among 1000 humans are estimated to suffer from the problem worldwide.

Understanding The Different Types Of Epilepsy

Depending on the pattern of seizures and brain activity, epilepsy is broadly grouped/sub-grouped into different categories. The two main types of epilepsy are:

  • Generalized Epilepsy
  • Partial Epilepsy

Types Of Epilepsy: Generalized Epilepsy

Generalized seizures are attributed to widespread cellular, structural, or biochemical disturbances in the brain. Diffused and hyper-synchronized electrical fluctuations in the brain may cause these seizures to appear.

  • Generalized Tonic-Clonic Epilepsy

    The generalized tonic-clonic seizure (also called Grand Mal epilepsy) is the most common among the types of epilepsy, and this accounts for about 10% of all seizures.

    It is characterized by sudden muscle stiffness in the body (known as the “Tonic phase” of the seizure) which lasts for about 10 to 20 seconds. This is followed by a “Clonic phase” which is superimposed with the relaxation of these muscles, lasting for less than a minute.

    After the seizures disappear, the affected individual becomes unresponsive, confused, and disoriented for a while.

    Excessive salivation, breathing difficulty, and tongue biting (as the tongue gets caught between the jaws during seizures) can be observed in such cases. Patients may even pass stool or urine during the episode. After a tonic clonic seizure, the patient may gain consciousness in just a few minutes or after hours. Severe headache and muscle pain are other characteristic symptoms.

    An Electroencephalogram (EEG, which is a graphical record of the brain’s electrical activity) will reveal significantly abnormal electrical changes in brain.

  • Tonic Epilepsy

    This is characterized by muscular contractions, making them stiff for a while.

  • Clonic Epilepsy

    Clonic contractions of the muscles are typically repetitive, rhythmic, and occur in muscles of both sides of body simultaneously.

  • Absence Seizures

    Absence seizures (also called Petit-Mal seizures) are featured by an abrupt loss of consciousness, without any loss of control over the posture of body. They last for a few seconds and patients do not experience confusion after the seizures alleviate.

    Children between 4 to 8 years of age or adolescents are affected by this condition.

    One of the common types of epilepsy, an absence seizure may precipitate in the form of rapid eye blinking or chewing movements. It is characterized by generalised tonic-clonic convulsions. In about 60-70% of the cases, the epileptic individuals experience remission. This type of epilepsy can be treated through medication.

  • Atonic Epilepsy

    People with Atonic Epilepsy mostly face an abrupt loss of muscle tone for 1 to 2 seconds along with a brief spell of unconsciousness, without further disorientation.

    This is one of the dangerous types of epilepsy as head injuries might occur if the individual falls during his unconscious state.

  • Myoclonic Epilepsy

    This type of epilepsy is characterized by brief and abrupt muscular contractions, either in specific parts or the whole body. Jerky muscular movements during sleep, which many people commonly experience, underline this type, and mostly, the cause is an underlying neurological dysfunction.

Types Of Epilepsy: Partial Epilepsy

Partial seizures (also known as local or focal seizures) occur due to any physical damage or structural anomalies in certain areas of the brain. The types of epilepsy here are:

  • Simple Partial Seizures
  • Complex Partial Seizures
  • Simple Partial Seizures

    Simple partial seizures are characterised by the gradual onset muscular contractions in specific body parts, based on where the damage has occurred in the brain.

    Typically, clonic and repetitive contractions-relaxations are observed during the epileptic attack. One of the five special senses (hearing, taste, vision, touch, or smell) may present with abnormal sensations before or during the episode. This feature is called the ‘Aura’ of epilepsy.

    There are some variants among simple partial seizures:

    • Jacksonian March: Abnormal finger contractions gradually progress to the arm within a few minutes
    • Todd’s Paralysis: Localized loss of power and sensations (from a few minutes to hours) in the affected region after the episode
  • Complex Partial Seizures

    A typical ‘loss of contact with surroundings’ is the distinguishing feature of complex partial seizures. Patients often lose touch with the environment during such episodes, and may find it hard to recollect the events later.

    Complex partial seizures occur in the form of ‘automatisms’. These epilepsy symptoms are involuntary movements like lip-smacking, chewing, or swallowing.

different types of epilepsy

Photosensitive epilepsy is one of the different types of epilepsy, which can be triggered by intense flashes of light.

Photosensitive Epilepsy

This type of epilepsy is precipitated by stimuli like intense lights, flashes, fluorescent glows, and regular or bold moving light patterns. Individuals afflicted with this condition should avoid any form of flashing lights, in computers and even in nightclubs.

The different types of epilepsy, as shown, have different triggers. By isolating the cause of the epileptic attack, the ideal epilepsy treatment can be finalized. It is no doubt very important to take epilepsy prevention measures in the first place.


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