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What Does a Seizure Feel Like?

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Seizures, like many characteristics of chronic physical and mental health conditions, don’t have a singular “look” or set of symptoms. But what they do have is a heaping pile of preconceived notions and assumptions (hello, stigma). So, what does a seizure actually feel like? What sensations are at play? How can you build empathy for someone who experiences them?

Understanding Seizures at Their Core

A seizure is a disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain that can lead to a range of sensory and motor disruptions, as well as loss of awareness and consciousness. Think of it like a temporary miscommunication in a part of the brain. Depending on the type of seizure, this disruption can manifest in various ways, impacting how a person perceives and interacts with the world around them.

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Inside a Seizure: Sensations and Feelings

Physical Sensations During a Seizure

When a seizure occurs, a person can experience a range of physical sensations from head to toe. They may include:

  • Convulsions: Uncontrollable, powerful, and jerking movements in a part of the body such as an arm.
  • Muscle stiffness: A sensation of rigidity, as if momentarily disconnected from one’s physical form.
  • Involuntary twitching: Sudden, unpredictable movements.

People have described these sensations as:

  • Overwhelming: Like a surge of energy coursing through the limbs.
  • Disorienting: The familiar boundaries of self momentarily blur.
  • Intense: A visceral reminder of the brain-body connection.

Emotional and Cognitive Experiences

Despite the widespread belief that physical health conditions do not and should not impact a person emotionally, seizures are a prime example that you can’t experience one without the other. Here are a few of the common feelings surrounding seizures:

  • Fear: A familiar sense of control might slip away.
  • Confusion: Concepts that once felt concrete may suddenly seem distant and out of place.
  • Detachment: There can be a feeling of disconnection from the immediate surroundings, almost as if you’re watching the world from a distance.
  • Déjà vu: Some people may experience a present moment that feels inexplicably familiar.

The Aura Phase: Warning Signs and Initial Feelings

Before a seizure fully takes hold, there’s usually a phase known as the “aura.” Think of it as an early alert system, giving the person a chance to get ready. These auras can show up in different ways, like unusual smells or tastes, or a strong feeling of déjà vu — like something familiar from the past is happening again. These signals are different for each person and are incredibly important to identify and pay attention to when possible. The aura phase can open a possible window of time to prepare and find a safe place before the seizure.

Post-Seizure Feelings

Following a seizure, the body and mind enter a recovery phase. This period can be characterized by extreme tiredness, mental fogginess, and heightened emotional sensitivity.

Post-seizure life commonly brings a profound sense of fatigue. It’s as if the body has expended a significant amount of energy, leaving the person feeling drained and needing rest. Additionally, there may be a lingering mental haze (sometimes called brain fog), making it challenging to think clearly or process information immediately.

Moreover, emotional vulnerability often accompanies this recovery period. The intensity of the seizure experience can leave one feeling emotionally raw and sensitive. You’re not alone if you’ve experienced this — this heightened emotional state is a very natural response to the physical and mental exertion endured during the seizure.

Our recommendation? Gentle self-care, as well as giving yourself (or the person who experienced the seizure) a safe, quiet, and comfortable space to rest up and regain their strength.

Navigating through this post-seizure phase requires patience and gentle self-care. Providing a supportive environment for recovery, whether for oneself or someone else, can make a significant difference in the overall well-being of individuals dealing with seizures. Understanding and acknowledging these post-seizure feelings is a crucial step in offering empathetic and effective support.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Seizure Experiences

Q: Can seizures be painful?

A: While seizures aren’t typically painful, the physical movements and muscle contractions can lead to soreness or discomfort afterward.

Q: Are all seizures the same?

A: No, seizures can vary widely in their presentation and the sensations experienced. It’s important to note that there are different types of seizures, each with its own characteristics. These variations are influenced by factors such as the specific areas of the brain involved and the underlying neurological conditions.

Q: How long does a seizure typically last?

A: The duration of a seizure can vary significantly, ranging from a few seconds to several minutes. It’s essential to monitor the length of seizures, as prolonged seizures can be a serious medical concern. If a seizure lasts longer than usual or is the individual’s first seizure, seeking prompt medical attention is crucial to ensure their safety and well-being.

Q: What should I do if I witness someone having a seizure?

A: If you witness someone having a seizure, it’s essential to stay calm and take immediate action to ensure their safety. Clear the area of potential hazards, such as sharp objects or obstacles. Time the duration of the seizure, as this information can be crucial for medical professionals. Once the seizure subsides, offer reassurance and support. If it’s the person’s first seizure or if the seizure lasts longer than usual, it’s imperative to seek medical help promptly.

Getty image by Lekcej

Originally published: November 7, 2023
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