A seizure is usually triggered by a burst of abnormal electrical activity in your brain. It can affect movements, emotions, behaviour and consciousness.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021


A seizure, which is sometimes known as a fit, can last for anything from a few seconds to several minutes. Possible seizure symptoms, which can vary in severity, include:

  • Uncontrollable jerking movements or shaking
  • Loss of awareness and, in some cases, consciousness
  • Confusion, fear, anxiety
  • Tingling sensations

A seizure can happen to anyone at any age. One in 20 people have a seizure at some point in their life.

If you've had two or more seizures, you may have epilepsy – a condition affecting about one in every 100 people. Epilepsy is more likely to develop in childhood or over the age of 60. Although it can’t be cured, epilepsy can usually be managed.

In most cases, seizures can be controlled with medication.


What causes a seizure?

Often, the exact reason for a seizure isn’t known, especially if it’s a one-off.

Epilepsy is a common cause of seizures but a seizure might also be due to:

There are several types of seizure, which have different symptoms, including:

  • Simple partial seizure (aura) – you remain conscious but with a strange out-of-body experience which may feature feelings of déjà vu
  • Complex partial seizure – you lose awareness and can’t control random, erratic body movements
  • Absence seizure – once called petit mal, these seizures tend to affect children and involve slipping into a trance-like state for several seconds
  • Tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure – often referred to as an epileptic fit, this seizure results in you losing consciousness and collapsing, with your body stiff and legs and arms jerking

Not all seizures are caused by abnormal bursts of electrical activity in the brain. Dissociative seizures, which are also known as non-epileptic seizures, can be caused by a range of factors. Possible causes of dissociative seizures include anxiety, panic attacks, diabetes and heart problems. Dissociative seizures require diagnosis and treatment from a consultant.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Getting a diagnosis for seizures

If someone’s had a seizure for over five minutes or they’ve failed to regain consciousness following a seizure, call 999.

Whether you’ve had one seizure or repeated seizures, see your GP as soon as possible. Your GP will ask about your seizure symptoms. If you’re unsure, take someone with you who witnessed what happened.

Your GP may recommend a range of investigations, including:

  • Blood tests – to check your overall health
  • CT or MRI scan – to look for any brain abnormalities or injuries
  • EEG test – to record your brain’s electrical activity

In some cases, your GP may refer you to a consultant for further assessment, diagnosis and treatment.

If you have epilepsy, your doctor will provide you with advice and information about living with this condition.

Treatments for seizures

Medication can usually prevent or reduce the severity and/or frequency of seizure symptoms. Your doctor will recommend treatment after considering your type of seizure, overall health, age and any pregnancy plans.

Very rarely, your doctor may recommend surgery or implanting a special device to control electrical impulses to the brain.