Skip to Main Content


A seizure (from the Latin sacire, “to take possession of”) is a transient occurrence of signs or symptoms due to abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain. Depending on the distribution of discharges, this abnormal brain activity can have various manifestations, ranging from dramatic convulsive activity to experiential phenomena not readily discernible by an observer. Although a variety of factors influence the incidence and prevalence of seizures, ~5–10% of the population will have at least one seizure, with the highest incidence occurring in early childhood and late adulthood.

The meaning of the term seizure needs to be carefully distinguished from that of epilepsy. Epilepsy describes a condition in which a person has a risk of recurrent seizures due to a chronic, underlying process. This definition implies that a person with a single seizure, or recurrent seizures due to correctable or avoidable circumstances, does not necessarily have epilepsy (although a single seizure associated with clinical or electroencephalographic features portending high risk of recurrence may establish the diagnosis of epilepsy). Epilepsy refers to a clinical phenomenon rather than a single disease entity, because many forms and causes exist. However, among the many causes of epilepsy, there are various epilepsy syndromes in which the clinical and pathologic characteristics are distinctive and suggest a specific underlying etiology.

Using the definition of epilepsy as two or more unprovoked seizures, the incidence of epilepsy is ~0.3–0.5% in different populations throughout the world, and the prevalence of epilepsy has been estimated at 5–30 persons per 1000.


Determining the type of seizure that has occurred is essential for focusing the diagnostic approach on particular etiologies, selecting appropriate therapy, and providing information regarding prognosis. The International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) Commission on Classification and Terminology updated their approach to classification of seizures in 2017 (Table 425-1). This system is based on the clinical features of seizures and associated electroencephalographic findings. Other potentially distinctive features such as etiology or cellular substrate are not considered in this classification system, although this will undoubtedly change in the future as more is learned about the pathophysiologic mechanisms that underlie specific seizure types.

TABLE 425-1Classification of Seizuresa

A fundamental principle is that seizures may be either focal ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.