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Epilepsy and Types of Seizures We Treat

Epilepsy and seizures can make your life unpredictable, but the right treatment can help you live a full life. At Henry Ford Health, our epilepsy team treats all types of epilepsy and seizures, even the most complex cases.

We offer in-depth evaluation for diagnosis and a full range of medications and surgical treatments for epilepsy and seizures. Our team works closely together — and with you — to create a personalized care plan that brings you relief.

What is epilepsy? What is a seizure?

Epilepsy is a neurological (brain and nervous system) disorder in which surges of electrical activity in the brain cause repeated seizures. These sudden, uncontrolled episodes can affect your behavior, sensations, movements or level of consciousness.

Not all seizures are the result of epilepsy, and having one seizure doesn’t mean that you have epilepsy. Our epilepsy team has expertise in identifying the causes of seizures to confirm an accurate diagnosis.

Epilepsy treatment at Henry Ford: Why choose us?

We’ve received recognition as a level 4 epilepsy center from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC). With our professional expertise and facilities, we provide the highest level of care for people with complex epilepsy.

Highlights of our epilepsy care include:

  • Comprehensive care: Whether this is your first seizure, or you’ve experienced many, we’re ready to help you. We diagnose and treat people with all kinds of seizures, including those not caused by epilepsy. Learn more about our epilepsy and seizure evaluation and treatment.
  • Advanced diagnostics for treatment planning: Our doctors use advanced technology, including real-time, 24/7 monitoring in our epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) and MEG scans, to plan your treatment. Our team’s expertise helps you get the best possible care.
  • Expertise in pediatric epilepsy: The epilepsy team has specialists who provide care for people of all ages, from infants and children through teens and adults. Learn more about pediatric epilepsy care at Henry Ford.

Seizure and epilepsy symptoms

Epilepsy symptoms and signs vary depending on the type of seizure and where it occurs in the brain. Most people have the same type of seizure over time, so the symptoms are usually similar in each episode.

Some symptoms and signs affect your awareness, senses, thoughts or emotions:

  • Sudden, temporary confusion; distraction or memory lapses
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, joy or sadness
  • Unusual smells, sounds, tastes or vision problems
  • Slow or unusual response to others or your environment
  • Feelings of detachment or out-of-body sensation

Other symptoms are physical:

  • Unusual eye movements such as staring or repetitive blinking
  • Jerking or twitching movements
  • Muscle stiffness, loss of muscle control or inability to move
  • Difficulty talking
  • Numbness, tingling or feeling of electric shock
  • Headache or other pain
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Types of seizures we treat

We treat all types of seizures, and doctors classify them by the way they begin. Understanding how seizures begin helps us determine the causes and plan treatment, such as medications and surgery.

Seizures that begin in one spot in the brain are focal seizures. Generalized seizures may involve the entire brain from the start.

Focal seizures

Focal seizures start in one area of the brain and can spread throughout the brain:

  • Focal seizures without loss of consciousness: In this type, also called focal aware seizures, the person may have seizure symptoms while remaining awake and aware.
  • Focal seizures with impaired awareness: The person may be partially aware or may be unable to speak and lose awareness.

Generalized seizures

This type involves both sides of the brain and has several forms:

  • Absence seizures: Previously called a petit mal seizure, this type is very short. They usually involve staring, sometimes with muscle twitching.
  • Atonic seizures: With this type, a loss of muscle control can cause you to suddenly become limp or fall.
  • Clonic seizures: Clonic seizures cause repeated, jerking muscle movements usually in the neck, face and arms.
  • Myoclonic seizures: These short seizures involve sudden, brief jerks or twitches of your arms and legs.
  • Tonic seizures: The back, arms or legs suddenly become stiff or tense in tonic seizures.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures: Formerly known as a grand mal seizure, this type begins with muscle stiffening and loss of consciousness. Repeated jerking movements occur after the tonic phase.

Epilepsy and seizure causes

In about half of the people who have epilepsy, the causes are unknown. When the causes are known, they can include:

Causes of nonepileptic seizures

Nonepileptic seizures (NES) have symptoms similar to those of epileptic seizures, but the causes can be psychological or physical. NES may also be called functional seizures, and the causes include:

Epilepsy triggers

In some people with epilepsy, seizures can be more likely to occur in certain situations. Taking note of these triggers can help you recognize when a seizure is about to happen so you can prepare.

Some triggers aren’t within your control, but you may be able to avoid others. Common triggers include:

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Flashing (strobe) lights or contrasting visual patterns
  • Hormonal changes, such as menstrual periods in women
  • Missed medications
  • Specific foods, too much caffeine or low blood sugar
  • Stress, illnesses or fevers
  • Too little sleep

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