Early symptoms of epilepsy

Symptoms of epilepsy

When discussing the early symptoms of epilepsy, the word seizure is most likely the first thing that will come to our minds. On the other hand, we may also think of the terms ‘epilepsy’ and ‘seizure disorder’ as somewhat interchangeable, which isn’t too far from the truth either. But whether the seizures are a symptom of the condition or the condition itself, there are warning signs that can alert parents to the fact that their infant or adolescent child may have epilepsy. What’s more, the seizures themselves may differ from the depictions that popular media have accustomed us to; as a matter of fact, there are several different types of seizures.

The warning signs of epilepsy in children may include:

  • Short staring spells.
  • Unaccountable sudden falls.
  • Brief periods of no response.
  • Dazed behavior.
  • Abnormal sleepiness.
  • Irritability upon waking.
  • Repetitive nodding.
  • Quick blinking.
  • Jackknife movement clusters in children sitting down.
  • Grabbing movement clusters with both arms in children lying supine.
  • Confusion and sleepiness preceded by sudden stomach pain.
  • Repeated unnatural-looking movements.
  • Unusual stumbling or clumsiness.
  • Unexplained episodes of fear.
  • The child complains about things looking, sounding, tasting, smelling or feeling ‘weird.’

And in adolescents:

  • Chewing, picking at clothes, mumbling or random movements preceded by blank staring.
  • Unaccountable fear, anger, or anxiety.
  • Early morning muscle jerks of the limbs or body.
  • Sensory changes.
  •  Memory gaps.
  • Dazed behavior.

Not being able to communicate properly for a brief period.

As we’ve already mentioned, the main characteristic of epilepsy is a seizure, which may or may not be preceded by some of the aforementioned symptoms, and may lead to loss of consciousness as well as other complications such as falling, drowning (if the person is swimming), car accidents (if the person is driving), or pregnancy complications (if the person is pregnant). However, an isolated, unprovoked seizure (which approximately one in every 100 Americans has at some point in their lives) is not tantamount to an epilepsy diagnosis; that usually requires at least two unprovoked seizures. Furthermore, seizure-looking event may be caused by a cause other than epilepsy; this is known as a non-epileptic seizure. Seizures are triggered by abnormal brain cell activity, and the type of seizure depends on the area of the brain affected.


Focal seizures

Only one part of the brain is affected

·         Simple focal seizures




·         Dyscognitive focal seizures

May cause sensory changes and involuntary jerking of an arm or a leg, tingling, dizziness, and flashing lights. Do not cause loss of consciousness.

Alter consciousness or awareness and cause staring and purposeless movements.


Generalized seizures

All parts of the brain appear to be affected

·         Absence seizures



·         Tonic seizures


·         Clonic seizures


·         Myoclonic seizures


·         Atonic seizures


·         Tonic-clonic seizures

Also known as petit mal seizures, involve staring and subtle body movement. Can cause brief awareness loss.

Stiffening of muscles in the back, arms, or legs.

Related to rhythmic, jerking muscle movements in the neck, face, or arms.

Sudden and brief jerks or twitches or arms and legs.

Loss of muscle control.

Also known as grand mal seizures; include loss of consciousness, body stiffening and shaking, and potentially loss of bladder control or tongue biting.


Even though the different symptoms of epilepsy are not common to all types of seizure, most patients usually have the same time of seizure so that each individual episode is typically characterized by the same set of symptoms. The early symptoms of epilepsy are not the only factors that can put you on your guard; many patients reports ‘seizure triggers’ that when identified can help to anticipate when an episode might be coming on. Some of those triggers include:

A specific time of the day or night.

  • Lack of sleep.
  • During fevers or other illnesses.
  • Flashing bright lights or patterns.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Stress.
  • Menstruation or other hormonal changes.
  • Malnourishment.
  • Low blood glucose.
  • Specific foods or liquids.
  • Certain medications.

It’s important to take into account that just because one event follows another, it doesn’t mean that the former caused the latter; that type of reasoning is known as a post hoc logical fallacy. For an occurrence to be considered a trigger that occurrence must take place consistently enough that a cause-and-effect relationship may be established; otherwise, it could be just a coincidence. In order to confirm or deny potential triggers:

  • Keep a seizure diary where you note the time at which each seizure occurs and whether there were any special circumstances, including the most frequently reported triggers.
  • Establish whether a circumstance that has taken place consistently before a seizure also takes place at any other times.
  • Keep track of suspected triggers in your diary whenever they happen and not just before a seizure.

Though you may retain consciousness and awareness during a seizure, you may also be incapacitated and being able to know when is about to happen may give you time to alert the people around you so that they can assume control of the situation. Your immediate family and friends should become well versed on seizure first aid.


Seizure First Aid

All seizure types

Without change in awareness

Altered awareness

Loss of consciousness

Call 911 if

-Stay calm and remain with person till seizure is over.

-Time the seizure; most only last a few minutes.

-Make sure the person is comfortable;

move nearby objects to prevent injury.

-Keep onlookers away.

-Do not hold the person down by force.

-Don’t put anything in the person’s mouth (including water, pills or food, unless the person is fully alert).

-Stay calm and tell the person they are safe.

-If the person is scared, tell them to breathe deep, or do something calming and relaxing.

-Stay until the seizure is over and make sure the person is aware of what’s going on.

-Help them to a safe place.

-Let them walk in an enclosed are if possible, but don’t let them wander away.

-Keep them away from dangerous objects and places, holding them back if necessary.

-Repeat instruction till sure they hear and understand.

-Make sure the person is alert, oriented and safe after the event.

-Protect the person from injury without restraining their movements.

-Watch their breathing; turn them on their side to keep airways open.

-Stay until the person is aware and safe.

The seizure lasts five minutes or longer.

-One seizure immediately follows another and the person doesn’t regain consciousness in between.

-The person has breathing difficulties or seems to be choking.

-The seizure takes place in water.

-Injury may have occurred.

-The persons asks for medical care.

It is essential to implement a seizure response plan that covers driving, water and fire safety, and safety-proofing the person’s environment, and adjusting their diet. Such a plan also includes devising and copying a physical document with personal information as well as info about your condition, such as type of seizures, triggers, etc., so that anyone, even strangers, know who you are, what to do, who to contact and son on in case you suffer an episode. Your healthcare team should sign and keep copies of your plan, and you should also keep copies at home and at work, as well as carry one with you, and also distribute them among family, friends, and co-workers.