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This glossary has been developed by the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center team. It provides you with some words you may hear during your child’s evaluation and treatment.
Absence seizuresSeizures (previously called petit mal seizures) that are frequent, brief events (five to 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 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 recognize that a seizure occurred.
Atonic seizures Seizures that involve a loss of tone in the head, upper torso or whole body. In the most severe cases, children with atonic seizures will collapse to the ground face first.
Complex partial seizures Seizures that involve an alteration in a child’s level of consciousness coupled with changes in motor activity (e.g., jerking of one extremity or side of the body) and automatisms (e.g., repetitive chewing, swallowing, picking at clothes).
Cryptogenic The cause is hidden or occult.
EEG An EEG, or electroencephalogram, is a recording of the electrical activity of the brain.
EEG / video monitoringSimultaneous EEG and video recording between and during seizures. It can be prolonged monitoring lasting from hours to days.
EpilepsyA disease characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Epilepsy currently afflicts an estimated 40 million people worldwide and approximately 2.3 million in the United States.
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.”
Generalized onset seizures Discharges that begin in one part of the brain then travel throughout the brain.
Grand mal seizures See tonic-clonic seizures.
Partial onset seizures Discharges in small parts of the brain.
Petit mal seizures See absence seizures.
Postictal period The time following a seizure, where the child will be very tired and usually sleeps. Recovery back to baseline following a seizure can range from a few minutes to a few days.
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 a child’s level of consciousness.
Symptomatic Arising from a suspected or known cause
Tonic seizures Tonic seizures involve stiffening of all extremities and can also lead to falling. At times, it is hard to tell visually whether the child fell due to loss of tone (atonic seizure) or stiffening (tonic seizure). Because of this difficulty separating atonic and tonic seizures, clinicians often lump atonic and tonic seizures together and label them as “drop attacks.”
Tonic-clonic seizures Tonic-clonic seizures (previously called grand mal) begin with stiffening of all extremities (tonic phase) followed by rhythmic jerking of all extremities (clonic phase). The tonic phase usually lasts 30 to 60 seconds, and the clonic phase one to two minutes. The overwhelming majority of tonic-clonic seizures last less than three minutes.
Video / EEG monitoringSimultaneous EEG and video recording between and during seizures. It can be prolonged monitoring lasting from hours to days.
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