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Generalized Seizures

Dr. Elizabeth Thiele

Elizabeth Thiele, MD, PhD
Epileptologist, MGH

This is a transcript of a video from the Growing Up with Epilepsy Web site. For more information visit

Dr. Elizabeth Thiele: So a generalized seizure is a seizure that, at onset, involves both sides of the brain fairly diffusely. So instead of starting in a very tiny area like a partial seizure, a generalized seizure involves the whole brain. At onset, consciousness is impaired. The generalized seizure most people are familiar with is the one that they see in movies, and that's the generalized tonic-clonic seizure. And that's when a child or an adult typically has initial stiffening of their extremities and then rhythmic jerking of their extremities. There are many types of generalized seizures and they look very different, possibly suggesting that one area of the brain is more involved than other areas, even though we know that there is diffuse involvement. For instance, this generalized seizure that is very brief, associated with eye fluttering and a change in what I would be saying, a brief pause, is an absence seizure.

Girl: Um... and it was just...

Dr. Elizabeth Thiele: Another type of generalized seizure could be a quick jerk of my body or a limb. And that is a myoclonic seizure. Another type of generalized seizure is if I had stiffening of my extremitiesaethat would be a tonic seizure. And another type is what we call an atonic seizure, which is when the child will go from being awake, interacting with their world, and suddenly lose tone and drop to the ground. And all of those are generalized seizures, meaning that they diffusely involve the majority of the brain at onset, but they do look very different.