A seizure is a sudden change in the electrical activity of your brain. This can cause involuntary symptoms, like shaking or loss of consciousness.
There are many types of seizures. Some are related to epilepsy, while others are due to other health conditions, like alcohol withdrawal or high fever.
Depending on the type of seizure, the feeling of having one can vary greatly. It also depends on whether you lose consciousness.
Before a seizure, you might have warning signs like a headache or tingling. After the seizure, you may feel confused, tired, or sore.
Read on to learn about how having different types of seizures might feel.
The two main types of seizures are called focal and generalized seizures.
A focal seizure, or a partial seizure, occurs in one part of the brain. Since the seizure only affects one region, you might stay conscious or have a slight change in consciousness. You might be aware of sensations that occur during the seizure.
A generalized seizure involves both sides of the brain. In most cases, you lose consciousness. You likely won’t be aware of sensations during the seizure.
During a focal seizure, you might experience motor or sensory feelings. Your sensations depend on the part of the brain involved and whether you lose consciousness.
Here’s what different focal seizures may feel like:
Focal aware seizure
You’ll stay conscious during a focal aware seizure, also called a simple partial seizure, or aura. It may happen on its own or before the seizure progresses.
During a focal aware seizure, you might experience:
- a general strange feeling
- stiffness or twitching in a part of the body, such as an arm or hand
- feeling like events have happened before (déjà vu)
- tingling in your legs and arms
- “rising” sensation in your stomach
- extreme emotions (like joy, fear, or anxiety)
Focal impaired awareness seizure
If you lose consciousness during a focal seizure, it’s called a focal impaired awareness seizure or complex focal seizure.
Before this type of seizure, you may have an aura. During the seizure, you’ll be unaware of what is happening. You might feel confused or tired after the seizure.
Focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures
If a focal seizure spreads to both parts of the brain, it’s called a focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizure.
Since this seizure starts as a focal seizure, you might feel an aura first. But as the seizure spreads, you may lose consciousness.
Gelastic and dacrystic seizures
A gelastic seizure causes uncontrollable laughing. A dacrystic seizure causes uncontrollable crying or grimacing. These seizures are typically associated with a rare tumor-like lesion called a hypothalamic hamartoma.
You’re usually conscious during these seizures. You may feel anxious and out of control.
Since generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain, you’re more likely to lose consciousness. However, you may feel symptoms before or after the seizure.
Here’s what different types of generalized seizures might feel like:
Generalized tonic-clonic seizures
A generalized tonic-clinic (GTC) seizure usually causes loss of consciousness. You won’t feel anything during the actual seizure.
Before a GTC seizure occurs, you may feel an aura. When the seizure begins and you become unconscious, your body will contract during the tonic stage. Next, you will convulse during the clonic stage.
During the clonic stage muscles alternate between relaxation and rigidity. People can lose control of their bladder and bowels during or after the seizure.
After the seizure, you may feel confused, exhausted, and sore. If you fell during the seizure, you might have pain or discomfort. You’ll also likely have a severe headache.
A tonic seizure causes muscle stiffening for 10 to 20 seconds. It doesn’t progress to the clonic stage.
Typically, tonic seizures occur while you’re sleeping. But if they occur when you’re awake, you’ll lose consciousness and may fall over. You’ll feel fatigued and confused after the seizure.
A clonic seizure only involves muscle jerking. If you stay conscious, you may feel tingling or numbness. But if you lose consciousness, you won’t know what’s happening. Clonic seizures are rare.
An absence seizure, previously known as a petit mal seizure, causes loss of awareness for 3 to 30 seconds. You won’t feel confused after the seizure. However, these seizures occur often during a 24-hour period; around 50 to 100 times.
A myoclonic seizure feels like an electric shock. It causes twitching or jerking, which typically lasts less than 1 second. You stay conscious during this seizure, which may reoccur several times during a short amount of time.
During an atonic seizure, you suddenly lose muscle strength. It’s also known as an akinetic seizure or drop attack.
You may stay conscious or briefly lose consciousness during the seizure. You’ll feel your muscles suddenly relax, causing you to suddenly fall. But you should be able to get up right after.
Infantile or epileptic spasms
Infantile spasms, or epileptic spasms, affect babies. They typically happen during the first year of life.
Since these seizures occur in babies, it’s difficult to know what it feels like to experience them. However, a baby may briefly lose consciousness. The seizure might also cause head nodding and spasms.
Some seizures are not related to epilepsy. This includes:
Febrile seizures are caused by a high fever. They typically affect children between 6 months and 3 years old.
During a febrile seizure, a child will lose consciousness for a few minutes. They might feel sleepy after the seizure.
A non-epileptic event (NEE) is a seizure that doesn’t involve abnormal electrical activity in the brain. They’re typically caused by physical or mental stress.
Examples of NEE include:
Depending on the type of NEE, you may lose consciousness or feel:
- fullness in your stomach
- rapid heart rate
- dry mouth
- poor control of body movement
- confusion (after regaining consciousness)
A nocturnal seizure occurs when you’re sleeping. It can cause abnormal behaviors during sleep, like shouting or thrashing around.
If you stay asleep during the seizure, you likely won’t feel anything. But it might feel like you’re having recurring nightmares.
If you wake up during the seizure, you’ll feel confused. You’ll also feel drowsy and tired during the day.
If you think you’re having a seizure, focus on staying calm. Try to move away from furniture or other large items. Slowly lie down on the floor and place your head on a soft surface, like a cushion. This will reduce your risk of injury.
If it’s your first seizure, see a doctor as soon as possible. They can provide a diagnosis and monitor your symptoms.
If you’ve been diagnosed with epilepsy, follow your seizure response plan when you feel a seizure coming on. Make sure your friends and family are familiar with your seizure response plan.
Since seizures can cause many possible sensations, they can mimic other conditions.
Conditions that may feel similar to a seizure include:
- low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- low oxygen levels (hypoxia)
- panic attacks
- temper tantrums (in children)
- night terrors
- sleep apnea
- poor sleep quality
- transient ischemic attacks
- cardiac arrhythmias
- nervous tics
Most seizures are not a medical emergency. You likely won’t need to call 911.
Usually, a seizure only lasts for a few seconds. After the seizure, wait until the person is fully awake, then calmly let them know what happened.
You should call 911 if someone:
- is having a seizure for the first time
- has trouble breathing or waking up after the seizure
- has a seizure for longer than 5 minutes
- has another seizure right after
- gets hurt during the seizure
- has a seizure in water
- has a seizure while pregnant
- also has diabetes, heart disease, or another chronic medical condition
The sensation of having a seizure depends on the type of seizure. For example, if you have a mild seizure, you may stay conscious. You might also feel strange and experience tingling, anxiety, or déjà vu.
If you lose consciousness during a seizure, you won’t feel anything as it happens. But you might wake up feeling confused, tired, sore, or scared.
Most seizures are not a medical emergency. But if someone has a seizure for the first time, or if they have trouble waking up or breathing, call 911 immediately.