While a variety of behaviors may occur in different types of seizures, not all behavioral changes are seizures. Some symptoms may be due to other medical problems or even due to side effects of medicine.

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When sorting out symptoms, consider these four main characteristics of seizures:

Seizures are usually…

  1. Unpredictable - you often can't predict when and where a seizure may happen
  2. Episodic - seizures can come and go
  3. Brief - usually last only seconds to a few minutes
  4. Stereotypic - symptoms are similar whenever they occur

Now, consider the different feelings or behaviors that may occur at the beginning, middle or end of a seizure. Sometimes these symptoms may be considered a warning to a seizure or are part of the seizure itself. If any of these symptoms are present, start keeping track of what occurs and share it with your doctor. Some warning signs of possible seizures may include:

  • Odd feelings, often indescribable
  • Unusual smells, tastes, or feelings
  • Unusual experiences – "out-of-body" sensations; feeling detached; body looks or feels different; situations or people look unexpectedly familiar or strange
  • Feeling spacey, fuzzy, or confused
  • Periods of forgetfulness or memory lapses
  • Daydreaming episodes
  • Jerking movements of an arm, leg, or body
  • Falling
  • Tingling, numbness, or feelings of electricity in part of the body
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained confusion, sleepiness, weakness
  • Losing control of urine or stool unexpectedly

What should I do if I notice warning signs of seizures?

  • Keep track of what occurs and when.
  • Share information with your health care team.
  • Ask if these symptoms are seizures. If your team doesn’t know, is it time for testing or an evaluation at an epilepsy center to find out?
  • Note changes in your seizure diary, especially during medicine changes.
  • Use the warning signs to help you prepare, stay safe, and ideally stop them.
  • Get to a safe place before the rest of the seizure.
  • Tell someone what is going on.
  • Follow your seizure action plan – for example if you use a VNS magnet, medicine or some other intervention when seizures occur

Find Your Local Epilepsy Foundation

Authored By: 
Steven Schachter MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Authored Date: 
Thursday, November 7, 2013