education banner

What is a seizure?

The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells or neurons that communicate through electrical and chemical signals. When there is a sudden excessive electrical discharge that disrupts the normal activity of the nerve cells, a change in the person’s behaviour or function may result. This abnormal activity in the brain that results in a change in the person’s behaviour or function is a seizure.


Anyone can have a seizure. In fact, approximately one in ten people in Canada will experience at least one seizure during their lifetime. A single seizure, however, is not epilepsy. Epilepsy is a condition that is defined by multiple or recurrent seizures. Epilepsy is a seizure disorder. It is not a psychological disorder or a disease and it is not contagious.


A seizure may take many different forms including a blank stare, muscle spasms, uncontrolled movements, altered awareness, odd sensations, or a convulsion. The form the seizure takes depends on where in the brain the excessive electrical activity occurs.


Sometimes the forms seizures take can be mistaken by others to be deliberate acts. Sometimes people misunderstand seizures and think that those with epilepsy are mentally disabled or are more likely to be violent. Seizures are not deliberate acts and people with epilepsy are neither prone to violence nor are they mentally disabled.


An excessive electrical discharge in the brain temporarily causes a change in the person’s function or behaviour. When the seizure is over, the person typically returns to normal.


Reprinted in part from Epilepsy: Seizures & First Aid (Epilepsy Education Series, Edmonton Epilepsy Association)