Difference between Epilepsy and Seizure

Although the terms “seizure” and “epilepsy” are sometimes used interchangeably, there are differences between them. In this article, we will take a look at the matter.


Epilepsy vs Seizure
Learn how to treat people with epilepsy. Refer to the professional manuals.

Epilepsy is a series of recurring seizures inside the human brain. Epilepsy is one of the most enigmatic medical conditions known. In roughly 70 percent of registered cases, the actual cause of epilepsy is unknown.

Epileptic seizures are generally divided into two categories:

  1. Focal seizures. These usually start with an experience known in medicine as aura – one might see a strange light, detect undesired smells, and feel overall confusion of the cognitive processes. People with focal seizure are dazed and confused; they cannot respond to simple verbal commands. Focal seizures are also sometimes accompanied by unusual automatic muscle activity, which starts from one group of muscles and can take over the surrounding groups of muscles. This phenomenon has a special term – a Jacksonian march.
  2. Generalized seizures. These are developed from focal seizures, and, in their turn, are divided into several categories:
    • Tonic seizures. These are characterized by a series of muscle contractions. Sometimes the breathing is impaired.
    • Clonic seizures. This type is characterized by simultaneous shaking of hands and feet.
    • Tonic-clonic seizures. These combine the effects of the tonic and clonic seizures.
    • Myoclonic seizures. These involve spasms in muscles all over the body.
    • Absence seizures. These can be barely noticeable; there may be slight movements of the head, or abnormal blinking of the eyes.
    • Atonic seizures. During this type, the muscle activity is lost temporarily, for more than one second. They typically attack both sides of the body (they are known as bilateral for this reason).

A person suffering from epilepsy usually has two or more types of the above described seizures. As an individual gets older, the nature of a seizure characteristic to him may change.

Epilepsy Statistics (the U.S.):

  • In the United States of America, there are estimated to be 2.3 million people with epilepsy.
  • Roughly 50 percent of people suffering from epilepsy develop the disease by the age of 25.
  • Medical specialists claim that anyone can have epilepsy at any point of one’s life.
  • The known causes of epilepsy include: heredity, brain tumors, traumas, and infections.
Absence Seizure
A graphic representation of Absence Seizure

A seizure refers to the misfiring of the neurons inside the human brain. Neurons are the basic cells inside the brain; their main function is to convey the electro-chemical signals via the synaptic connections. All functions of the brain – sensory functions, cognition, the ability to understand speech, the governing of movements of the body, depend on the electrical activity of neurons. When there are a series of misfiring happening simultaneously, the brain is experiencing an equivalent of an “electrical storm” – all its functions are suddenly paralyzed, and there is a seizure.

First aid advice in case you notice an epileptic seizure happening to somebody:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Track time, because epileptic seizures last only tens of seconds to several minutes (depending on the type).
  3. Do not restrain a person; just help him to avoid hazards
    • Protect a person’s head
    • Remove glasses and piercing, if present. Also remove potentially harmful objects out of the way of the person.
    • Turn the person on one side and place him mouth to ground.
  4. Try to see if he or she has an epileptic ID card.
  5. Be aware that people do not understand verbal orders while affected by seizures.
  6. Never leave the person, stay by him, until the seizure has passed. Then help him reorient.
  7. Call the ambulance immediately after the seizure has started, especially if you do not know whether the person has had previous epileptic seizures.

Also call the ambulance immediately if an epileptic person is in one of the following conditions when a seizure happens:

  • Pregnant.
  • Injured.
  • Has diabetes.
  • Doesn’t resume normal breathing.
  • Shows slower than normal recovery.

In general, when in doubt, always call the ambulance.

This is the list of what not to do during seizures:

  • Never put anything into the person’s mouth (check that there is nothing in their mouth they could choke on).
  • Never restrain or hold down the person.
  • Never give any anti -seizure medications; wait until a doctor arrives.

Epilepsy vs Seizure

What is the difference between epilepsy and seizure?

Strictly speaking, a seizure is the single misfiring of the group of neurons in the human brain. Epilepsy, on the other hand, describes two or more seizures recurring in the brain. Epilepsy is sometimes referred to as a “seizure disorder.”

Comparison chart

Epilepsy Seizure
Refers to the multiple occurrences of a seizure Is a single occurrence of a neuron misfiring


In this video you can see an analysis that explains the differences between epilepsy and seizures: