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About 50 million people have epilepsy worldwide, but for decades, the causes and effects of epileptic seizures were a frightening mystery. As scientists began to unlock the secrets of the brain, terminology for seizures changed over time. In 2017, the International League Against Epilepsy released its newest classifications of epileptic seizure types. These divide epileptic seizures into categories based on how much of the brain they affect, how they alter a person’s awareness, and whether they produce motor or nonmotor symptoms.
All epileptic seizures occur when the brain’s electrical signals misfire, but the effects differ depending upon which parts of the brain are affected. There are two main types of epileptic seizure: generalized and focal. Focal seizures (previously called “partial seizures”) start in a specific area or network of cells on one side, or hemisphere, of the brain. Approximately 60 percent of people who have epilepsy experience focal seizures.
Focal seizures are categorized by the different levels of awareness people experience while having one. Seizures cause a range of cognitive effects. Some seizures appear to be a quick moment of daydreaming or are unnoticeable to an outside observer, while others involve full loss of consciousness.