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Understanding the Different Types of Epilepsy

Understanding the Different Types of Epilepsy

If you or anyone you love has ever experienced a seizure, you know how frightening it can feel. When a person has two or more seizures that have no known cause, such as a head injury, they’re diagnosed with epilepsy, which is the fourth most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder.

An out-of-the-blue rush of electrical activity in the brain prompts a seizure, which leads to diverse, disruptive symptoms. 

The dedicated care team at Houston Neurological Institute offers needed expertise in managing epilepsy, which is critical not only for patients’ health, but for their safety as well. 

Since there’s more than one type of epilepsy, and since each patient’s experience with epilepsy is unique, our patients appreciate the highly customized care our providers deliver.  

Understanding epilepsy

One of the most important things to learn about epilepsy is there are two overarching types, and each is determined by a particular type of seizure. 

The location where seizure-inducing electrical activity occurs in the brain, and how this activity impacts you in the form of seizures, is what your doctor investigates to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and create an effective treatment plan. 

Focal seizures happen in one lobe of the brain, and symptoms vary depending on which lobe is affected.

1. Frontal lobe epilepsy

The frontal lobe of the brain is behind your forehead, and these seizures typically happen at night while you’re sleeping. 

Since the frontal lobe is related to emotions, personality, speech, and movement, you may experience symptoms like sleepwalking, screaming, vigorous leg movements, jerky movements, and incontinence. Since these seizures take so much out of you, feeling “spent” and disoriented afterwards is common. 

2. Temporal lobe epilepsy

This area of your brain is located behind your cheekbones and temples on either side of your brain. 

Symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy include feeling powerful emotions, sensing strong smells (sometimes an odor of burning rubber), repetitive movements, staring, and becoming unaware of your surroundings and what’s happening. You may also experience abdominal upset.

3. Occipital lobe epilepsy

This lobe is in the back of your head, and these seizures feature visual changes or even the appearance of bright flashes of light. Fortunately, this type isn’t common.

4. Parietal lobe epilepsy

Your parietal lobe sits on the sides and top portion of your head, and it enables you to connect touch with objects, interpret words from sounds, and create visual images. Sensory symptoms characterize these seizures, from feeling hot or numb to feeling dizzy and even having hallucinations. These types of seizures too, are quite rare. 

The other type of epilepsy is defined by generalized seizures, or those that affect the entire brain, as opposed to an isolated part of it. As with focal seizures, there’s more than one kind of generalized seizure:

1. Absence seizures

During this seizure type, you unexpectedly and briefly lose consciousness, and more children than adults are affected.

2. Clonic seizures

These seizures cause sudden jerking and uncontrolled tensing and relaxing of muscles.

3. Tonic seizures

Tonic seizures cause stiffening of the muscles and typically happen while you’re asleep. You’re at risk of falling if you experience one while you’re awake. They’re usually very brief.

4. Myoclonic seizures

Myoclonic seizures cause a sudden muscle tone increase and feel like an electric shock. The jerking and twitching that they lead to typically lasts just a few seconds.

5. Tonic-clonic seizures

Also known as grand mal seizures, these cause violent, uncontrollable movements, breathing problems, rigidity, loss of bladder or bowel control, and they can make you lose consciousness. Afterwards, weakness, headache, and confusion are common. 

6. Atonic seizures

Atonic seizures cause unexpected loss of muscle strength, so you go limp, often fall, and even lose consciousness briefly.

Focal seizures can also spread and become generalized. With so many types of both focal and generalized seizures, it’s important for your doctor to investigate the origins and symptoms of your seizures with great care. 

Treating epilepsy

After using electroencephalogram (EEG) testing to monitor your brain activity in-office and at home to make a diagnosis, your Houston Neurological Institute doctor creates a customized treatment plan, which may include:

Getting your epilepsy under control improves your quality of life, and finding a true partner in your doctor is essential.

We’re here to educate you about epilepsy and provide innovative treatment. Call our Pasadena or Pearland office to schedule an appointment, or book one online


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