Below is a list of the types of generalized seizures. *An asterisk indicates old terminology

Tonic-clonic (Grand Mal)*

This seizure may start with a sudden cry and fall, and progress from muscle rigidity to jerking. There is a change in breathing pattern. Breathing may be temporarily suspended and the skin may turn bluish. Bladder or bowel control may be lost. There may be excessive drooling and possible vomiting. The person loses consciousness. The seizure typically lasts from two to five minutes, and will be followed by fatigue and confusion before full recovery.

Absence (Petit Mal)*

Absence seizures are most often found in children. They are typically 2 – 10 seconds long. The child may have a blank stare. There may be blinking, eyelid fluttering, eye rolling, or chewing movements. The person is unaware during the seizure, followed by an immediate return to full awareness. They are fairly easy to control with medication. The seizure may look like daydreaming or non-compliance to adult instructions. It may result in learning difficulties if not detected and treated.

Atonic (Drop Attack)*

The person collapses and falls without warning. The seizure lasts for 10 seconds with a quick recovery. The greatest risk comes from injury as the person falls. These seizures may be drug-resistant and require a safety helmet.


These are abrupt muscle jerks in one part or all of the body. They may be a single incident or a series of incidents. The person may fall off their chair or spill things. They may occur when going to sleep, or upon awakening. It looks like a nervous tic or startle response.


These seizures look like sudden rigid muscle contractions. The body, arms or legs suddenly become stiff or tense, then quickly relax.


These seizures consist of repetitive jerking movements. They may lead to a tonic-clonic seizure.

Infantile Spasms

Onset is usually before age one. If the child is sitting, the head may fall forward and arms flex forward. If lying down, the knees may be drawn up and arms and head flex forward, as if reaching for support. They last 1 – 5 seconds long and occur in clusters. Many may occur upon going to sleep or waking. They may look like normal infant movements or colic.

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