“Epilepsy is the Greek word for seizure disorder,” says Dr. Jose Colon, a pediatric neurologist with Lee Memorial Health System.
Seizures have been recognized as a medical condition for centuries, but they are not one-size fits all. In fact, they can present in extremely different forms.
“The one that most people know about are the generalized tonic-clonic seizures, or Grand Mal seizures, and what that is it’s a full body convulsion,” says Dr. Colon.
In a clonic-tonic seizure, the patient generally loses consciousness and collapses. It’s characterized by stiffening of the body, which is the tonic phase. About a minute later it’s followed by violent jerking, which is the clonic phase. It’s a stark contrast to the absence seizure.
Absence seizures affect mostly children and last just a few seconds. There is a brief loss of consciousness, which can almost go unnoticed. Someone suffering one of these seizures looks like they’ve zoned out.
“They can have a moment in time where it appears that somebody is not paying attention, but what’s happening is that they have a seizure going on in their head. Many times this can happen multiple times a day, sometimes hundreds of times in a day,” says Dr. Colon.
The next most common seizure is the myoclonic, characterized by sporadic jerks on both sides of the body. Followed by atonic, which is when the patient has a sudden loss of muscle function. Seizures can originate for any number of reasons.
“Sometimes it can be a genetic predisposition towards having seizure disorders. Sometimes it can be a symptom of cerebral palsy or a prior brain injury or other genetic disorders. There are some things that can make a seizure more likely to come out. Sleep deprivation is a very good one,” says Dr. Colon.
A doctor with experience in seizure disorders is best suited to make a diagnosis. There are medications and even surgery that is helpful in controlling or eliminating these unexpected seizures.