What Is The Difference Between Seizures And Epilepsy?


When you hear the word “seizure,” you might think of someone shaking uncontrollably or even foaming at the mouth. Seizures can certainly look like that, but they can also be more subtle.

Seizures aren’t happening in the person’s body. They’re happening in the person’s brain. A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain.

Types of Seizures

Seizures are typically categorized into two groups: focal and general.

Focal seizures, also called partial seizures, originate in just one area of the brain. Generalized seizures involve the whole brain.

There are many different types of seizures within these two groups. Some people might experience just a brief staring spell, while others might lose consciousness and have convulsions.

Focal Seizures

  • Simple focal seizures – only a small part of the brain is affected. Minimal symptoms, such as a small twitch or change in sensation, might occur.
  • Complex focal seizures – multiple parts of the brain are affected. The person typically feels confused, disoriented, or unable to respond during the seizure.
  • Secondary generalized seizures – a focal seizure that spreads to involve the entire brain.

Generalized Seizures

  • Petit mal – also called an absence seizure. The person stares blankly and is unresponsive for a short time.
  • Grand mal – also called a tonic-clonic seizure. The person will likely fall to the ground with strong muscle jerking and contractions.

What Is Epilepsy?

When a person experiences recurrent seizures, this is described as epilepsy.

Epilepsy may result from:

  • brain tumors
  • congenital brain damage
  • drug and alcohol use or withdrawal
  • head trauma
  • hypoxic brain damage (lack of oxygen)
  • neurological infection
  • stroke

Determining what may be triggering a person’s seizures is crucial for the management, prevention, and treatment process.

Types Of Epilepsy

The age of onset often categorizes epilepsy syndromes.


  • Benign familial neonatal epilepsy


  • West syndrome
  • Dravet syndrome


  • Generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures plus (GEFS+)
  • Childhood absence epilepsy
  • Lennox–Gastaut syndrome
  • Landau–Kleffner syndrome

Adolescence and adulthood

  • Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy

Each of these different syndromes on the epilepsy spectrum has its own set of symptoms, prognosis, and treatment options.

Anti-seizure and anti-epileptic medications can be prescribed to help control most cases of seizures and epilepsy. If medications aren’t working, surgery may be necessary. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of action based on the specific details of your condition.