What's it like to have a seizure?
May 5, 2010 4:04 PM   Subscribe

What's it like to have a seizure?

I'm something of a hypochondriac, and one of my recurring fears is that I will develop a disorder that causes seizure. This got me thinking, and I realized I have no idea what the subjective experience of the person having a seizure is like. So, if you suffer from seizures, or know someone who does, what does it feel like? What do you experience when you have one?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I suffered from seizures at the onset of puberty. I had three that I can "remember" - chances are I had more before they were discovered.

Mine always occurred during my sleep, or at least I would wake up and have a seizure before being driven into a deep, deep sleep. The only recollection of the actual seizure I had were waking up, being aware that "oh no something is wrong here" and then nothing. I woke up on three occasions surrounded my EMS, giving me oxygen to support my body in waking up.

I remember the shaking, but I have to emphasize that my mind really didn't like to let me remember these. Its been a decade since I've had a seizure but I still remember the first day I had to go to the ER - I refused to believe I had a seizure, I said I was just falling out of bed and trying to regain my balance but in reality I was shaking pretty violently.


a) Very little recognition of having the seizure. A three-four second window where I was conscious that I was having a seizure and then it was lights out.

b) Extremely difficult to "wake up" afterwards. I can't speak for all types of seizures but mine were of the grand-mal, or tonic-clonic, variety. I was not dangerously unconscious - I just recall feeling as if I just ran a marathon. It was terribly difficult to wake up, and I suppose the oxygen they gave me was an attempt to help my brain kick back into gear.

I'm sorry I can't provide much more information than this. I was young and have very little memory of the actual seizures. I spent about four years on Tegretol under the guidance of a Neurologist. I went through the whole gambit of tests. Interestingly enough once I began on the medication I never had another seizure, even under clinical testing that was done to try to mimic the perfect condition for a seizure to see what was going on in my brain when they occurred.

Bottom line: don't worry. Modern medicine is fantastic and I am all but cured of my childhood epilepsy. I obviously can't say I'll never have another seizure but I had been in situations where my brain was hovering very, very close to the seizure threshold and I still did not have a seizure. I had a wonderful neurologist who helped a young me feel alright about what was going on. I will say that I sometimes questions the effect that Tegretol had on my brain chemistry, because in adulthood I suffer from anxiety disorders and depression. But regardless that medication helped me lead a fairly normal childhood.
posted by deacon_blues at 4:19 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

My good friend and housemate has epilepsy, and I've watched the poor guy have more seizures than I care to recall. I think people experience different seizure disorders in different ways, but from my interactions with him and his descriptions after the fact I don't he's really conscious at all once he starts seizing; He tenses up instantly, seizes for a bit, then lies there stiff for quite a while, gradually relaxing and coming out of it. The recovery seems much like awakening after being asleep, he seems very groggy and will sometimes announce that he "fell asleep" or, if that doesn't make sense given what he'd been doing beforehand and where he finds himself awakening, he'll put two and two together and ask if he had a seizure. He's very tired afterward, sometimes for as long several days. As far as I know he's never had any memories of the seizure itself.

Some people with seizure disorders experience "auras" before a seizure event, though my friend never has.
posted by contraption at 4:53 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Varies widely based on the type of seizure.

Consider: different area(s) of the brain implicated, different effects.

Check out this page.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:59 PM on May 5, 2010

A close relative of mine has been diagnosed as having petit mal epilepsy. When we talked about it, she recounted how she was in a hotel room and thought it was odd how the bathroom sink kept getting larger & larger...and then nothing. Whe was surprised to then find herself waking up from what she thought was a nice nap, only she was on the bathroom floor. That's when it dawned on her that she had passed out.

She took test upon test, and the conclusion was that she had had a seizure caused by epilepsy. The doctor prescribed an antiseizure medication. She has clinical experience, and so she declined--which was ok with the doc. The doctor's staff just asked her to surrender her driver's license before she left the office. She could either forfeit her license or take the meds. She's been taking the meds.

She said that in retrospect, there were probably three episodes where she passed out with little recognition if any that something happened.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:59 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a single seizure once, caused by fainting and smacking my head very hard on the ground. I remember everything perfectly well up until the fainting. The next thing I remember is waking up on the ground. My senses came back quickly but incrementally. First, I saw a line of trees in the distance and realized I was still on the football field. Then my vision came more into focus and I saw a bunch of people leaning over me, their mouths moving. I tried to sit up (twice?) but they pushed me back down. My hearing came back and I could hear them talking. I became a bit more alert and realized they were asking me questions, a couple seconds later and I was able to formulate a response. Not sure how long the entire process took.. 20 seconds maybe?

I was weak for a full day afterward. "Weak in the knees" is a perfect description, my legs felt wobbly. I wasn't "tired" though, I tried to sleep for several hours but just ended up staring at the ceiling.
posted by groar at 5:34 PM on May 5, 2010

I had childhood epilepsy, I think my last seizure was around 15 or 16. Grand mal sort. The only things I remember from any of them are feeling woozy at the beginning and then struggling to come out of it. Like deacon said, it takes a LOT out of your body. Oh, and once I had one at school after being hit in the head and peed my pants. Good fun for a 7th grader. I took phenobarbital and something else on and off.

Now, my three year old daughter has had a few, though hers are likely just febrile (fever related). The first time she had one she was a little over a year and I was out alone with her. It was the scariest thing ever. Each time she's had one, she falls right to sleep hard for a while and then is like nothing ever happened.

The last time, we saw a specialist about it (our pediatrician wasn't convinced it was purely febrile given the family history) and I'm not sure if it was him or our ped, but one of them told us they tend to not even treat childhood epilepsy as much any more because the drugs weren't all that effective (at least not effective enough to warrant having kids on them I guess).

I do rely on a history of epilepsy keeping me out of any drafts. Who wants to take a chance giving me a gun and then have me seize?
posted by speeb at 5:35 PM on May 5, 2010

I've had three, the kind that used to be called "grand mal," and are now generally called tonic-clonic. Started with queasiness and/or feeling faint, then I would pass out. Had crazy, crazy dreams for what seemed like forever, which were accompanied by a rapid thudding or pulsing sound in my ears (imagine a ball being bounced like 10 times a second). All of mine lasted between 3 and 5 minutes or so.

Then I would slowly came out of it (on the floor, looking up at scared people), so completely disoriented that I don't even know what I was, let alone who or where. That would last like 10 seconds, and then it all comes back, I know what happened, and the best part... I feel great! Like I just slept for 12 hours, and I'm ready to take on the world. Then comes the pain in the ass where you have to get everyone to calm down and convince them you're not on drugs/need to go to the hospital.

Usually some residual soreness and stiffness in the muscles on the side that was tensed up, and maybe some bruises if I hit something on the way down (and one time my arm hurt like a bitch because the teacher of the class I was in at the time thought he needed to stop my arm from tensing, and forced it down to my side -- and he was the health teacher ffs).
posted by diocletian at 6:09 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's important to differentiate between tonic-clonic seizures, which result in a full loss of consciousness, and other types of epiletiform activity, which may or may not involve a loss or impairment of consciousness. The former is what most people think of when they hear the word seizure. The latter can present in many different forms.

I've had one seizure and it was a tonic-clonic. I have no memory of the event. I woke up to find myself lying in bed, surrounded by people, several of whom I didn't recognize (they turned out to be EMTs). I was very disoriented. They were asking me if I could tell them who the president was, but all I could do was stammer—I was too preoccupied with trying to piece together what had happened.

Gradually over the next few hours the haziness faded. The last thing I could remember was being in my room and packing for a trip. My brother had heard me fall down and groan, and came in to find me having a seizure. By sheer luck I'd fallen directly onto my bed, though I still managed to bite my tongue and twist my arm pretty badly.

I did a year and a half on anticonvulsants. Never had another seizure, though I did have a few auras when I tried to go off the meds prematurely. Auras are different for everyone; for me they involved brief and rapid feelings of derealization, fairly intense but lasting only a fraction of a second. The best description I can offer is that it felt like suddenly realizing I was in a dream. "Existential" auras are generally associated with temporal lobe epileptiform activity, which is indeed what the EEGs showed I had.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:19 PM on May 5, 2010

I had three or four seizures, at least one a grand mal-type, after rather nasty knock on the head when I was a teenager. The best perspective I can give on what the seizures felt like would be to say I can give absolutely no perspective on what the seizures felt like.

I just barely remember doctors or nurses giving me sternum-noogies to (I suppose) test for consciousness and to wake me up afterward. They also tickled between my toes to test for sensory response. I was on Dilantin for a couple years after that. It made me somewhat sleepy for a while.
posted by The Potate at 6:21 PM on May 5, 2010

I had a febrile seizure once when I was a teenager.

As far as pre-seizure indicators go, I just suddenly felt fuzzy-headed and thought that I was about to puke, so I tried to yell for a bucket because I knew I wouldn't make it to the bathroom... then nothing.

Apparently that came out as more of a loud moan, and I was found twitching in my chair.

I woke up a while later, thinking "Man, that was a hell of a nap." It took a few minutes for me to remember the attempted puke alarm and ask what had happened.
posted by CKmtl at 6:26 PM on May 5, 2010

I had two medication-related grand mal seizures in one day. All I really remember from the first time was waking up on the floor with a bloody nose and with wee in my pants, surrounded by concerned fellow library-goers. Afterwards, I had no idea what had happened and was initially kind of suspicious at being told I'd had a seizure. IDK, maybe I thought I'd been attacked ninjas or something?

The second time was pretty much exactly the same except by then I was already in the ambulance. There were also no ninjas present in the ambulance. I slept a bunch at the hospital and when I got home later. I felt totally fine the next day, although I told my mom I still felt "kinda funny" so she'd let me stay home from school and make me soup.
posted by elizardbits at 6:32 PM on May 5, 2010

I've had many grand mal seizures (started at age 17, though I do not have epilepsy) though I now know how to stop them from happening, mostly by dropping and lying down WHEREVER I AM when I feel one coming on. I don't care where I am, I will lie down on the floor if I feel one coming on. The alternative is so much worse. Mine are usually triggered by threat of pain and are a vasovagal reaction. I will feel very dizzy and clammy before they happen, then hear a whooshing sound. FYI, I lose consciousness and stop breathing when I have them - they are dramatic and horrible. When I'm unconscious, it just feels like dreaming. At first. Then you realize (still unconscious) that you're not dreaming - you're having a seizure, and it becomes a nightmare. You have to force yourself back into consciousness. You can then hear the people around you but not talk back to them or see them. Then you can talk to them (they sound like they are in a tunnel) and you still can't see them. Then you can see and talk to them (still with the tunnel effect) but you can't move. You have no idea how long you've been out and no recollection of what happened while you were out. When I come to, I am in a cold sweat, have usually lost control of functions, and it's painful, but not in a way you otherwise experience pain. Just having your systems shut down so dramatically is not fun. I usually cannot walk for several hours (when I've tried, I've immediately fallen down and/or thrown up) and I do not return to normal for at least 24 hours. This is why I've figured out how to avoid having these. They are so horrible and humiliating, and the recovery is long and uncomfortable. This is not like "fainting" in the Victorian lady sense of the word or "passing out", like you've had too much to drink. It's a whole different animal. Luckily, for me, they are avoidable and not caused by a disorder, and I haven't had one for probably 10 years.
posted by FlyByDay at 6:48 PM on May 5, 2010

I had one grand mal seizure and hundreds of small ones as a teenager. The grand mal seizure was scary after the fact, in that it was rather world-shaking and waaay beyond my control, but aside from that it shared something with the smaller seizures - it felt good while it was happening. Really good - like fireworks in my spine and head, tingling in my toes, almost a post-orgasmic feeling.

I saw a doctor and started taking medication, and the seizures went away. I told my doctor that I wasn't very happy about losing them; he told me about how Dostoyevsky (who obsessively documented his seizures) described similar 'rapturous' feelings and also didn't want the seizures to go away. But living in the world with this untreated - not being able to drive being a big factor - has drawbacks as well, so I took the medication and haven't had a seizure since.

Sometimes I miss them.
posted by foobario at 7:30 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I did a year and a half on anticonvulsants. Never had another seizure, though I did have a few auras when I tried to go off the meds prematurely. Auras are different for everyone; for me they involved brief and rapid feelings of derealization, fairly intense but lasting only a fraction of a second. The best description I can offer is that it felt like suddenly realizing I was in a dream. "Existential" auras are generally associated with temporal lobe epileptiform activity, which is indeed what the EEGs showed I had.

Oh shit. I've been having these for my entire post-pubescent life. And I've "fainted" several times.

Thank you for mentioning this. I kind of think I ought to talk to a doctor about it.
posted by Netzapper at 8:01 PM on May 5, 2010

I had a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure about a year ago. I was walking in a subway station when I noticed flashing lights in my peripheral vision. "That's weird," I thought, and then suddenly I was on the ground and there were paramedics all around me. (Later I would learn that these flashes were an aura.)

I don't know if you've ever fainted or passed out, but the best way I can describe how it felt after the seizure was kind of that weird limbo feeling before you faint, or like drifting in and out of sleep--just really fuzzy-headed and confusing. I had blood in my mouth from where I'd bitten my lip, and (apparently) I'd hit my head pretty badly on the way down (or slammed it against the pavement after I was already on the ground) so that hurt. I was groggy for a while and my whole body was sore for the next day or so.

I don't remember anything of the actual seizure itself, and I have no idea how long I was unconscious for or what happened while I was out. Honestly, it was pretty terrifying, but mostly because of where it happened--I could have pretty easily fallen into the tracks. I've been on anticonvulsants since and haven't had another one.
posted by cosmic osmo at 10:02 PM on May 5, 2010

I have temporal lobe epilepsy. I have a lot of problems with word finding, absence seizures and fatigue. I also get a lot of aura like activity similar but not quite like I get before migraines.

Sometimes I'll have other perceptual bits too like:
'ghosts' in my peripheral vision
the awareness that my feet look too far away like they couldn't be mine
an inability to tell clockwise/counter right/left up/down

Mostly I know that I've been having a bad seizure day when I notice that I'm tired, cranky, tired, sweaty, tired oh and despite being related to you I can't remember your name but I can spell most of it and give you three limericks it would rhyme in.
posted by mce at 10:05 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Temporal lobe epileptic here too. Though I haven't had any noticeable seizures since
my early 20s. I could always tell I was about to have them... If you have an aura, you KNOW what's coming. Mine was a weird up/down feeling, detachment, dread. Pretty icky most of the time but they were followed by a Severe episode of Deja vu OR a wonderful mystical experience. That part I miss very much. That part was so *real* and so transcendent. I genuinely feel abandoned by god sometimes. That may sound dramatic, but, like foobario, I too miss my seizures.

Some kinds of epilepsy are very obvious. Some are not. Temporal lobe varieties vary wildly and my guess is that more people actually have TLE than what is currently documented, but it's because epilepsy isn't always a bad thing. It isn't always a disease. Sometimes it's a gift.
posted by madred at 12:04 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had I think 3 - might have been 2 - grand mal seizures caused by an overdose. I don't remember anything at all. It was very, very scary for the people around me though.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:42 AM on May 6, 2010

I had one grand mal (or whatever flopping-like-a-fish-out-of-water seizures are called these days) back in 1988 when I was in high school. I have no idea what caused it, and it's the only one I've ever had.

I was at work in a bicycle shop, leaning against a counter and taking a drink of my Diet Coke. I felt a pain in my chest, like when you swallow a big gulp of air. That's the last thing I remember. My boss and my co-worker guess I flailed about on the floor for about two minutes, then I came to. I was kinda shaky for a few minutes after (I think largely from wondering WTF had happened to me), but there were no long-term effects and I have no memory of the seizure itself.
posted by workerant at 8:21 AM on May 6, 2010

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