If you have epilepsy, it means you have a tendency to have epileptic seizures. But what are epileptic seizures?

    Fast facts about seizures


    A seizure that lasts for more than 5 minutes, or going from one seizure into another without recovering in between, is a medical emergency.

    Top tips


    Carry some medical ID so others can find out that you have epilepsy


    Make sure you know the right words to describe your epilepsy and your seizures


    Ask people who have seen you have a seizure to tell you more about what happens and if possible to take a video


    Having a video of your seizures helps your epilepsy doctor to make a correct diagnosis


    If you have a warning before a seizure, try and use it to get yourself as safe as possible

    Seizure classification

    Seizure classification is a way of naming different types of seizure. When talking about epilepsy and seizures, doctors often talk about focal onset and generalised onset. This refers to where in the brain a seizure starts. We explain more below:

    The 2 hemispheres of the brain labelled

    Seizure types

    Use the buttons below to find out more about some common seizure types. For each seizure type we explain what happens, how long they last, how people can help and what to expect afterwards.

    Names used for seizures

    People use lots of different names for seizures. Epilepsy Action uses the most up to date terms. These are the terms your healthcare team will probably use too, but some people still use the old names.

    Click or tap the cards to learn more…

    • The old name for tonic-clonic seizures is…

      Grand Mal

    • The old name for absence seizures is…

      Petit Mal

    • Focal impaired awareness seizures used to be called…

      Complex partial seizures

    • Focal aware seizures used to be called…

      Simple partial seizures


    The latest terms for naming seizures were introduced in 2017 by the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE). To learn more read the article: “ILAE new seizure classification – why rename seizures and what it all means


    Knowing a bit more about the structure of brain can help with understanding how seizures are classified. The short video explains a bit about the different parts of the brain (it’s more entertaining than it sounds). It doesn’t mention epilepsy, but helps to explain the structure of the brain.

    Do something

    What about your seizures?

    If you’re not sure, ask your GP, epilepsy doctor or epilepsy specialist nurse next time you see them.

    If you lose awareness during your seizures, you might want to ask someone who has seen them to describe them to you.

    Make a note of your answers so that you remember.

    Young woman with a glowing brain illustration

    More info

    The Epilepsy Action website explains more about seizures

    Visit website
    Updated 12 May 2020
    Review 12 May 2023
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