Types of Epilepsy

The first important step in the diagnosis of epilepsy is to figure out the type of seizure that is occurring. Your healthcare provider will use this information to choose the best treatment for you or your family member. There are many different types of seizures. Some people only experience one type of seizure, while others can experience several different types. Some common types of seizures are listed in this table:

Type of Seizure Description
Tonic-clonic Convulsive seizure, loss of consciousness, muscles stiffen, jerking movements
Absence Lapses of awareness, sometimes with staring
Myoclonic Short, jolt-like jerking movement(s)
Clonic Repeated jerking movements
Tonic Sudden, stiffening movements of the muscles
Atonic Abrupt loss of muscle tone, “drop attack”
Focal/partial Symptoms can include changes in:
  • Muscle activity
  • Any of the senses
  • Bodily functions such as heart rate and breathing
  • Changes in thinking, feeling, or perception

Some people with epilepsy have seizures that fit into certain patterns, such as type of seizures, time of day that seizures occur, and age when seizures started. When this happens, a person can be diagnosed with an epilepsy syndrome. A “syndrome” is a certain pattern of signs and symptoms that can be recognized more often together than alone. Some epilepsy syndromes are listed here:

Epilepsy Syndrome Signs and Symptoms
Benign familial neonatal epilepsy Seizures start between 2-8 days of life, typically tonic-clonic
Seizures stop between 1-6 months of age
Dravet syndrome Seizures start in the first year of life
Seizures often occur with fever and can be long
Often tonic-clonic, myoclonic, and atypical absence seizures
West syndrome Infantile spasms (types of seizure that starts between 4-8 months of age)
Loss of skills and abilities (i.e., rolling, sitting, babbling)
Specific pattern on EEG exam called hypsarrhythmia
Autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy Clusters of brief seizures that happen at night
Seizures start in childhood or adolesence
Progressive myoclonus epilepsies Seizures start in childhood or adolescence
Myoclonus (muscle contractions)
Lennox-Gastaut syndrome Two or more types of seizures
Intellectual disability
Specific pattern on EEG exam called slow spike-and-wave

Learning that you (or a family member) have an epilepsy syndrome can help your healthcare provider talk with you about what to expect and what treatments might be best for you (or your family member). It may also help you understand whether other family members could be at risk of developing epilepsy.