Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy Glossary — 100+ Terms Defined | December 19, 2022

Even if you do have epilepsy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you know all the lingo. (I didn’t!) So here are some definitions of medical terms related to epilepsy…

Absence Seizure (previously called petit mal seizures): Frequent, brief events (5-30 seconds) with abrupt onset, impairment of consciousness, and staring followed by an abrupt return to baseline function. If a person is speaking when the absence seizure occurs, he or she will stop talking, stare and when the brief seizure is over, resume the sentence as if nothing had occurred. In fact the person usually does not even recognize that a seizure occurred.

Abdominal Epilepsy: An exceptionally rare syndrome of epilepsy that’s more likely to occur in children. With abdominal epilepsy, seizure activity causes abdominal symptoms. For example, it may cause pain and nausea. Anticonvulsant medications can improve the symptoms.

Anticonvulsant: An antiepileptic drug used to control both convulsive and non-convulsive seizures.

Atonic Seizure: A seizure that causes a sudden loss of muscle tone, particularly in the arms and legs, and often causes the patient to fall.

Aura: A warning or initial symptom at the beginning of a seizure, experienced by the patient, but not visible to observers. (Auras might progress to become focal or even generalized seizures, or they might exist alone.)

Automatisms: A strange, repetitious behaviors that occur during a seizure. Automatisms may include blinks, twitches, mouth movements, or even walking in a circle.

Benign Infantile Encephalopathy: A type of epilepsy syndrome that occurs in infants. It is considered benign because it does not seem to impair cognitive functions or development.

Benign Neonatal Convulsions: A type of epilepsy syndrome in newborns that does not seem to impair cognitive functions or development.

Biofeedback: A strategy in which individuals learn to control their own brain waves or other normally involuntary functions. This is an experimental treatment for epilepsy.

Catamenial Epilepsy: The sudden gap between estrogen and progesterone hormones at the time of menstruation. Seizures can worsen just before your period…during the first few days…or at mid-cycle.

Celiac Disease: An intolerance to wheat gluten in foods that can lead to seizures and other symptoms.

Clonic Seizure: Repetitive, rhythmic jerks that involve all or part of the body.

Complex Focal Seizures: Seizures in which only one part of the brain is affected, but the person has a change in or loss of consciousness.

Complex Partial Seizure: A seizure that includes impairment of awareness, for example, patients seem to be “out of it” or “staring into space.” (Automatisms or other movements are frequently a part of the seizure, such as in automotor seizures.)

Convulsions: Sudden contractions of the muscles that may be caused by seizures.

Corpus Callosum: A band of nerve fibers located deep in the brain that connects the two halves (hemispheres) of the brain. (The corpus callosum helps the hemispheres share information.)

Corpus Callosotomy: An operation that cuts the corpus callosum and interrupts the spread of seizures from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. (Callosotomies might be complete, or might involve only a portion of the corpus callosum. Although seizures generally do not completely stop after this procedure, they usually become less severe.)

CT (computed tomography): A type of brain scan that reveals the structure of the brain.

Drop Attacks: A term used by some clinicians that lumps atonic and tonic seizures together and labels them as “drop attacks.”

Dysplasia: Areas of misplaced or abnormally formed neurons in the brain.

Early Myoclonic Encephalopathy: A type of epilepsy syndrome that usually includes neurological and developmental problems.

Eclampsia: A life-threatening condition that can develop in pregnant women. Its symptoms include sudden elevations of blood pressure and seizures.

Epilepsy: Chronic medical condition characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Epilepsy currently afflicts an estimated 40 million people worldwide and approximately 2.3 million in the United States alone.

Epileptic Seizure: An abnormal, excessive, sudden discharge of the neurons in the brain. In essence, a seizure is like experiencing an “electrical storm of the brain.”

Epilepsy Syndromes: Disorders with a specific set of symptoms that include epilepsy.

Epilepsy Surgery: A neurosurgical procedure to prevent further seizures, usually accomplished by resecting the epileptogenic zone. (This is successful in eliminating seizures in a large majority of patients, depending on the type of epilepsy identified during EEG-video monitoring.)

Epileptogenic Zone: The region of the brain responsible for the abnormal electrical signals that cause seizures.

Epileptologist: A doctor who studies and treats Epilepsy solely.

EEG or Electroencephalogram: A recording of the electrical activity of the brain. (This test helps a physician to diagnose epilepsy.)

EEG/Video Monitoring: Simultaneous EEG and video recording between and during seizures. It can be prolonged monitoring lasting from hours to days and is employed to diagnose epilepsy and localize the seizure focus. The results are useful to determine therapy, medical or surgical.)

Electrode: A conductive disc (usually metal) attached to the scalp that conveys the electrical activity of the brain through a wire to an EEG machine. (During an electroencephalogram, typically 21 electrodes are temporarily pasted to the scalp.)

Excitatory Neurotransmitters: Nerve signaling chemicals that increase activity in neurons.

Extratemporal Cortical Resection: An operation to cut out (resect) brain tissue that contains a seizure focus (“Extratemporal” means the tissue is located in an area of the brain other than the temporal lobe, most often the frontal lobe.)

Febrile Seizures: Seizures in infants and children that are associated with a high fever.

Focal Seizures: Seizures that occur in just one part of the brain.

Frontal Lobe Epilepsy: A type of epilepsy that originates in the frontal lobe of the brain. It usually involves a cluster of short seizures with a sudden onset and termination.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI): A type of brain scan that can be used to monitor the brain’s activity and to detect abnormalities in how it works.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid): An inhibitory neurotransmitter that plays a role in some types of epilepsy.

Generalized Seizures: Seizures that result from abnormal neuronal activity in many parts of the brain. These seizures may cause loss of consciousness, falls, or massive muscle spasms.

Glia: Cells that regulate concentrations of chemicals that affect neuron signaling and perform other important functions in the brain.

Glutamate: An excitatory neurotransmitter that may play a role in some types of epilepsy.

Grand-Mal Seizure: An older term for a seizure during which the patient loses consciousness and collapses. (The patient also has body stiffening and violent jerking, and then goes into a deep sleep. Also known as a generalized convulsion.)

Hemisphere: One half of the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain.

Hippocampus: A brain structure important for memory and learning.

Idiopathic: No underlying cause other than a possible inherited predisposition.

Infantile Spasms: Clusters of seizures that usually begin before the age of 6 months. During these seizures the infant may bend and cry out.

Jamais vu seizures: Often described as the opposite of deja vu,  jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer’s impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before. Jamais vu is sometimes associated with certain types of aphasia, amnesia and epilepsy.

Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy: A type of epilepsy characterized by sudden myoclonic jerks that usually begins in childhood or adolescence.

Ketogenic Diet: A treatment for epilepsy intended to maintain the starvation or fasting metabolism for a long period in order to create ketones, byproducts of fat-burning metabolism. (Seizures often lessen or disappear during periods of fasting. The diet is very high in fat and low in carbohydrates, and is most often recommended for children ages 2 through 12 who have been diagnosed with a generalized type of epilepsy, and who have failed to respond to a variety of medicines.)

Kindling: A phenomenon in which a small change in neuronal activity, if it is repeated, can eventually lead to full-blown epilepsy.

Inhibitory Neurotransmitters: Nerve signaling chemicals that decrease activity in neurons.

Intractable: About 40 percent of people with epilepsy will continue to experience seizures even with the best available treatment.

Ion Channels: Molecular “gates” that control the flow of ions in and out of cells and regulate neuron signaling.

Lafora disease: A severe, progressive form of epilepsy that begins in childhood and has been linked to a gene that helps to break down carbohydrates.

Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome: A type of epilepsy that begins in childhood and usually causes several different kinds of seizures, including absence seizures.

Lesion: Damaged or dysfunctional part of the brain or other parts of the body.

Lesionectomy: Removal of a specific brain lesion.

Lobe: One of the sections of the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain. (The lobes are divided into four paired sections.)

Lobectomy: Removal of a lobe of the brain.

Lumbar Puncture: A diagnostic procedure during which the fluid surrounding the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid) is withdrawn through a needle and examined in a laboratory. (It is also known as a spinal tap.)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): More advanced than an x-ray, an MRI is an imaging machine that produces detailed computerized images of internal body organs and tissues.

Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS): A type of brain scan that can detect abnormalities in the brain’s biochemical processes.

Magnetoencephalogram (MEG): A type of brain scan that detects the magnetic signals generated by neurons to allow doctors to monitor brain activity at different points in the brain over time, revealing different brain functions.

Metabolized: Broken down or otherwise transformed by the body.

Monotherapy: Treatment with only one antiepileptic drug.

Multiple Subpial Transection: A type of operation in which surgeons make a series of cuts in the brain that are designed to prevent seizures from spreading into other parts of the brain while leaving the person’s normal abilities intact.

Mutation: An abnormality in a gene.

Myoclonic Seizures: Usually bilateral (predominantly in the arms), irregular, arrhythmic, and can occur singularly or repetitively. These jerks may be so intense that some patients fall. The seizures usually occur shortly after awakening and can interfere with dressing, combing hair, brushing teeth and activities in the kitchen (e.g., dropping plates and glasses). Myoclonic seizures are often brought on by sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol or menstruation.

Near-Infrared Spectroscopy: A technique that can detect oxygen levels in brain tissue.

Neocortical Epilepsy: Epilepsy that originates in the brain’s cortex, or outer layer. Seizures can be either focal or generalized, and may cause strange sensations, hallucinations, or emotional changes.

Neurologist: A doctor who specializes in the treatment of disorders of the brain and nervous system (such as epilepsy).

Neuron: A single nerve cell. (The brain is made up of billions of neurons. Many neurons malfunctioning together are necessary to produce a seizure.)

Neurocysticercosis: A parasitic infection of the brain that can cause seizures.

Neurotransmitters: Chemicals in the brain that aid in transmitting signals and messages back and forth between neurons.

Nocturnal Seizures: Seizures that happen while a person is asleep. They can cause unusual nighttime behavior, such as waking for no reason or urinating while sleeping, as well as jerking and shaking of the body.

Nonconvulsive: Any type of seizure that does not include violent muscle contractions.

Non-Epileptic Event: An event that resembles a seizure but is actually produced by another condition, such as Tourette syndrome and heart rhythm disturbances, called arrhythmias. (Certain psychological conditions can also bring on a non-epileptic event.)

Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder (NEAD): Non-epileptic attacks that happen for psychological reasons rather than physical ones. This is different from epilepsy in that epileptic seizures happen because of abnormal electric activity in the brain.

Partial Seizures: Another term used to describe focal seizures, those that occur in just one part of the brain.

PET (photon emission tomography): A type of brain scan that can be used to monitor the brain’s activity and detect abnormalities in how it works.

Petit Mal Seizure: An older term for a form of epilepsy with very brief, unannounced lapses in consciousness which can be accompanied by blank staring. Often, the person does not even recognize that a seizure has occurred.

Photosensitive Epilepsy: Epilepsy with seizures triggered by flickering or flashing lights. It also may be called phobic epilepsy or photogenic epilepsy.

Prednisone: A drug that can be used to treat infantile spasms.

Progressive Epilepsy: Epilepsy in which seizures and/or the person’s cognitive abilities get worse over time.

Progressive Myoclonus Epilepsy: A type of epilepsy that has been linked to an abnormality in the gene that codes for a protein called cystatin B. This protein regulates enzymes that break down other proteins.

“Pseudo Seizures”: An attack resembling an epileptic seizure but having purely psychological causes, lacking the electroencephalographic changes of epilepsy, and sometimes able to be stopped by an act of will.

Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES): Seizures caused by psychological trauma or conflict that impacts the patient’s state of mind. About 1 in 6 of these patients either already has epileptic seizures or has had them.

Rasmussen’s Encephalitis: A progressive type of epilepsy in which half of the brain shows continual inflammation.

Seizure: An event of altered brain function caused by abnormal or excessive electrical discharges in the brain. (Most seizures cause sudden changes in behavior or motor function.)

Seizure Focus: The area of the brain where a seizure starts.

Seizure Threshold: A term that refers to a person’s susceptibility to seizures.

Seizure Triggers: Phenomena that trigger seizures in some people. Seizure triggers do not cause epilepsy but can lead to first seizures or cause breakthrough seizures in people who otherwise experience good seizure control with their medication.

Simple Focal Seizures: Seizures that affect only one part of the brain. People experiencing simple focal seizures remain conscious but may experience unusual feelings or sensations.

Simple Partial Seizures: Seizures that transiently disrupt or alter speech, motor activity, vision, smell or taste. Simple partial seizures are not associated with any alteration in the level of consciousness.

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography): A type of brain scan sometimes used to locate seizure foci in the brain.

Status Epilepticus: A prolonged seizure, usually defined as lasting longer than 30 minutes, or a series of repeated seizures without regaining consciousness. (Status epilepticus is a medical emergency, and medical help should be obtained immediately.)

SUDEP: Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, the leading epilepsy-related cause of death.

Symptomatic: Arising from a suspected or known cause.

Tonic Seizure: A seizure that is characterized by stiffening of the muscles, sustained for more than a few seconds.

Tonic-Clonic Seizure (previously called grand mal seizures): Begins with stiffening of all extremities (tonic phase) followed by rhythmic jerking of all extremities (clonic phase). The tonic phase usually lasts about 30 to 60 seconds, and the clonic phase one to two minutes. The overwhelming majority of tonic-clonic seizures last less than three minutes.

Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: The most common epilepsy syndrome with focal seizures.

Temporal Lobe Resection: A surgical procedure during which brain tissue in the temporal lobe is cut away (resected) to remove the seizure focus.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): A procedure which uses a strong magnet held outside the head to influence brain activity. This is an experimental treatment for seizures.

Vagus Nerve: A small cranial nerve that passes through the neck and is connected to various areas of the brain.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation: A surgical treatment for epilepsy involving implantation in the neck of an electrode on the vagus nerve. (The electrode is connected to a pacemaker that is placed under the skin in the chest. While the VNS is usually programmed to cycle continuously, the patient can turn the stimulator on, using a small magnet placed over the pacemaker, if he or she feels a seizure coming on.)

Video/EEG Monitoring: Simultaneous EEG and video recording between and during seizures. It can be prolonged monitoring lasting from hours to days.

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  1. Reblogged this on Disablities & Mental Health Issues.


    Comment by Kenneth — December 19, 2022 @ 11:59 AM

  2. An excellent article. I like very much.
    As far my concern BIO FEED BACK is an important role in the epileptic symptoms.
    Everyone should know to keep their BIO AVAILABLITY in standard condition by means of their food, regular work and other activities so that epilepsy will be well in control. This my assumption.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jmjalal65 — December 21, 2022 @ 1:54 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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