What Do Seizures Feel Like? Symptoms, First Aid, and More

Medically Reviewed By Nancy Hammond, M.D.
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How a seizure feels can vary greatly. Some people experience convulsions, heightened emotions, confusion, and other changes in their senses. Epilepsy can cause many types of seizures, and all may feel different depending on the symptoms. What one person feels during a seizure, another person might not.

Other conditions, such as a high fever or psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES), can also cause seizures that may vary in how they feel.

This article explains what seizures feel like, including epileptic, PNES, and provoked seizures. Read on to learn what to do if you believe you’re having a seizure, the conditions that may resemble seizure symptoms, and some frequently asked questions about what seizures feel like.

Can you feel a seizure coming on?

A blurred long-exposure image of someone's head tilting backward.
Maryanne Gobble/Stocksy United

Some people feel unusual sensations or experience other symptoms before a seizure fully occurs. This is known as an “aura,” which may act as a warning that a seizure is about to happen.

However, not everyone will experience a seizure aura.

Auras are a type of focal aware seizure in which the person remains conscious. Auras may lead to or develop into a seizure.

Auras can cause symptoms and feelings such as:

  • headache
  • twitching or stiffness in a part of the body, such as the hand
  • unusual tastes or smells
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • visual changes, such as seeing flashing lights or hallucinations
  • a feeling that a limb is a different size than it really is
  • a feeling of a wave moving through the head

Seizure auras can cause other feelings that may affect emotions. Before a seizure, you may feel intense joy, fear, or anticipation. Some people also experience déjà vu.

What do generalized seizures feel like?

Generalized seizures affect both halves of the brain.

In many cases of generalized seizures, people lose consciousness — you may not be aware of the feelings that happen during the seizure. However, you may feel some symptoms before or after the seizure.

Below are the types of generalized seizures and what they may feel like.

Absence seizures

An absence seizure, also known as “petit mal seizure,” can cause a loss of awareness and responsiveness. Other typical symptoms include a blank stare and a pause in the person’s actions.

Absence seizures don’t cause feelings of aura before a seizure.

They typically last 4–30 seconds but can occur 10 to more than 30 times daily.

Atonic seizures

An atonic seizure, also known as a “drop attack,” causes a sudden loss of muscle strength that typically lasts less than 2 seconds. You may feel your muscle strength and control return immediately afterward.

During this seizure, you may fall because of the sudden relaxation of your muscles. Other times, you may experience muscle relaxation only in some areas, such as your head dropping forward.

Tonic seizures

A tonic seizure results in the stiffening of your muscles. It usually lasts 3 seconds to 2 minutes and will not progress to the clonic stage.

It usually occurs while you’re sleeping. If you awake during a tonic seizure, you may lose consciousness and fall over.

Clonic seizures

Clonic seizures can be focal or generalized. They cause the muscles and body to shake and jerk.

If you have a focal clonic seizure and remain conscious, you may feel numbness or tingling in the part of the body that is jerking. If you do not remain conscious, you will not feel what is happening.

Generalized tonic-clonic seizures (GTC)

As per the name, GTC seizures cause tonic and clonic symptoms.

GTC seizures are likely to cause a loss of consciousness. You may not feel anything during it, but you may feel an aura.

When the seizure begins, your body contracts due to the tonic stage and then convulses due to the clonic stage. You may also lose control of your bladder and bowels during or after the seizure.

Infantile spasms

Infantile spasms occur in babies, usually starting in their first year and stopping by age 5 years. They are sometimes referred to as “epileptic spasms.”

These seizures may cause an infant to momentarily lose consciousness. They may also cause:

  • spasms
  • bending forward of the body
  • stiffening of the limbs for 1–2 seconds

Myoclonic seizures

A myoclonic seizure might cause jerking or twitching movements. An episode is usually very brief but may reoccur several times in a short period.

During a myoclonic seizure, you might remain conscious and feel a sensation similar to an eclectic shock.

What do focal seizures feel like?

Focal seizures happen in only one area of the brain. You might remain conscious or not lose consciousness completely, instead experiencing partial changes in awareness.

The sensation you feel throughout a focal seizure depends on the part of your brain involved and whether you lose consciousness.

The following are some types of focal seizures and what they may feel like.

Focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures

Focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures begin in one part of the brain and then spread to become generalized.

You may have an aura before the seizure starts and then lose consciousness. You may then experience tonic and clonic seizure symptoms.

Gelastic and dacrystic seizures

During a gelastic and dacrystic seizure, you may experience uncontrollable behaviors, such as:

  • crying
  • laughing
  • frowning
  • yelling
  • smiling or grimacing

Gelastic and dacrystic seizures may also cause you to feel out of control or fearful.

Focal aware seizure

During a focal aware seizure, you’ll likely remain conscious. This type of seizure may happen before it progresses or on its own. The focal aware seizure is also known as “aura.”

The feelings you may experience during a focal aware seizure can include:

  • stiffness or twitching in a part of your body
  • déjà vu
  • tingling
  • intense emotions
  • a general strange feeling

Focal impaired awareness seizure

A focal impaired awareness seizure occurs when you lose consciousness during a focal seizure. You may experience an aura before this happens.

You may also experience a fast heart rate, skin flushing, or paleness before a focal impaired awareness seizure.

What do nighttime seizures feel like?

If you experience a seizure while asleep, also known as a “nocturnal” seizure, you may not feel the seizure or its effects afterward if you remain asleep.

However, you may notice impaired sleep quality, such as being tired during the day. Others may also notice unusual behaviors in your sleep.

Sometimes, seizures may wake you. You might feel confusion or any other effects of seizure symptoms, such as soreness from muscular symptoms.

Other seizure types

Some types of seizures are not connected to epilepsy, such as:

Febrile seizures

Febrile seizures occur during high fevers and usually affect children 6 months to 5 years old. A child may lose consciousness during a febrile seizure. When the seizure ends, they may feel sleepy.

Learn more about febrile seizures and their symptoms and treatment.

PNES

PNES are unrelated to epileptic brain activity. However, they can cause symptoms that resemble epileptic seizures.

Because PNES can cause consciousness that comes and goes, you might have limited feeling or awareness of the symptoms.

Other PNES symptoms include:

  • shaking
  • thrashing or thrusting
  • bicycling of the legs
  • tightly closed eyes
  • shouting verbal phrases

Read more about PNES, including their symptoms and diagnosis.

What does it feel like after a seizure?

After a seizure, you may feel sensations and symptoms such as:

  • confusion
  • exhaustion and sleepiness
  • reduced response
  • lack of memory
  • difficulty speaking or writing
  • headache
  • soreness
  • emotional feelings, such as frustration or sadness
  • fear or anxiety
  • nausea or an upset stomach
  • if you sustained an injury during a seizure, pain, bleeding, or bruising

What to do if you think you are having a seizure

Call 911 or seek emergency medical care for anyone you suspect is having a seizure, especially if:

  • you think it could be their first seizure
  • the person is hurt or was in water
  • they have an underlying health condition, including pregnancy
  • the symptoms last 5 minutes or more

Make sure the area around the person is clear of any hazards or hard items, such as furniture, while you wait for medical help.

Learn more about first aid and what not to do for seizures.

Other possible causes of symptoms

A seizure can cause various feelings and symptoms. Seizures can be easily confused with other conditions, such as:

If you suspect you could be having a seizure or have similar symptoms, seek emergency medical advice. Doctors can then make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

Summary

Seizures can vary in how they feel, and their symptoms can differ depending on the seizure type. Because some seizures can cause a loss of consciousness, you may not know how they feel.

General feelings and symptoms of a seizure can include uncontrolled movements or shaking, staring spells, and intense emotions. Some people may feel unusual sensations that indicate a seizure coming on, known as an “aura.” You may also feel confused, sore, or tired after a seizure.

Seek medical care if you think someone is having a seizure.

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Medical Reviewer: Nancy Hammond, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 15
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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