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types of seizures in adults

Seizures or fits are when a person suddenly shows a change in behaviour or consciousness lasting for a few minutes. In some seizures, there are shaking movements of the body (called convulsions), with loss of consciousness. There are also seizures in which the person may be fully or partly awake. The only changes may be short periods of losing touch with reality or repeated movements, such as smacking the lips. Epilepsy is an illness where seizures occur repeatedly. If a person has at least two seizures in a month, one can diagnose epilepsy.

Seizures in adults are different from those in children. Childhood seizures are well described elsewhere. In adults, three types of seizures are recognised:

Generalized seizures. These are seizures (also called grand mal or major epilepsy) in which the person loses consciousness for a few minutes. His body becomes stiff and shakes in jerky manner. This seizure may be associated with biting of the tongue, passing urine and injury because of the sudden fall or the movements. Observers may describe him crying or screaming just before falling, the eyeballs rolling upwards, frothing at the mouth, and the person becoming blue (cyanosis) or pale. During the seizure, he is completely unconscious and will not respond to any verbal command. The seizure usually ends with him being drowsy or falling asleep. Some people may develop a temporary weakness of their limbs.

Partial seizures. These may occur in an awake person or in a person who is confused or has lost touch with her surroundings. The seizures are very varied in their nature. Some can be entirely localised to one area of the body, for example jerky movements of the arm. Other seizures may involve complex behaviours such as smacking the lips and buttoning and unbuttoning a shirt. Many people experience a warning or ‘aura’ that the seizure is about to start. Examples of auras are an unusual feeling in the stomach area and hearing, seeing or smelling things that are unusual. Some people may have a partial seizure that then becomes generalised.

‘Hysterical’ or ‘conversion’ seizures. These are more common in young women and are associated

with psychological stress. Their characteristic is that they do not follow any typical pattern described above.

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