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Epilepsy terms


There are lots of words you might hear when talking about epilepsy with an employee.

We have listed some common epilepsy terms below.

Absence seizure

A type of epileptic seizure that causes a brief loss of awareness. Used to be called a ‘petit mal’ seizure.

About absence seizures.

Anti-epileptic drug (AED)

The main treatment for epilepsy is epilepsy medicines. Some people call them anti-epileptic drugs or AEDs.

Anti-seizure medication (ASM)

Anti-seizure medication or ASM is another term for epilepsy medicine.


A type of epileptic seizure that causes a sudden loss of muscle tone.

About atonic seizures.

Atypical absence seizure

A type of absence seizure that lasts longer than a typical absence seizure. More common in people with learning disabilities.


Some people use the word aura to describe a warning they get before a seizure. An aura is a focal aware seizure that some people experience before a tonic-clonic seizure. It may also happen without progressing into another seizure.

Complex partial

A complex partial seizure is an old name for focal impaired awareness seizure.

See focal seizures.


A convulsion is a general term used to describe uncontrollable shaking of the body. Sometimes people say convulsion when talking about tonic-clonic seizures. There are many different types of seizure, not all seizures cause convulsions.


EEG is short for electroencephalogram. An EEG is a test of electrical activity in the brain. It is helpful for diagnosing epilepsy.

The Epilepsy Action website has more information about EEGs.

Emergency medicine

People with epilepsy who have a high risk of status epilepticus, might be prescribed emergency medicine (sometimes called rescue medicine). Emergency medicine should only be given by a named trained person.


Describes brain activity due to epilepsy: epileptic seizure. While seizures may be referred to as ‘epileptic’, this is a term to avoid if talking about a person with epilepsy. Instead say ‘person with epilepsy’.

See using the right language.

Epilepsy syndrome

A syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms that, added together, suggest a particular medical condition. There are lots of different epilepsy syndromes for example, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME).

The Epilepsy Action website has more information about epilepsy syndromes.


Some people refer to seizures as having an episode.


Sometimes people say ‘fit’ when talking about a seizure.

See using the right language.


A type of epileptic seizure that starts in one part of the brain. The symptoms will vary depending on the part of the brain affected.

About focal seizures.

Focal aware

A focal aware seizure is a focal seizure where the person remains aware.

Focal impaired awareness seizure

A focal impaired awareness seizure is a focal seizure where the person has a change in awareness. They may not be able to respond to anyone during the seizure and often have no memory of it.


A type of epileptic seizure that causes sudden and brief jerks. The jerks can affect one or both arms, the legs, head or the whole body.

About myoclonic seizures.


When seizures are triggered by flashing lights or high contrast patterns, it is called photosensitive epilepsy.

See more information about photosensitive epilepsy on the Epilepsy Action website.

Status epilepticus

Status epilepticus (sometimes just called status) is seizure activity that lasts too long. If it happens with a tonic-clonic seizure it is a medical emergency.

About status epilepticus.

Simple partial

A simple partial seizure is an old name for a focal aware seizure.

About focal seizures.


SUDEP is short for Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

The Epilepsy Action website has more information epilepsy-related deaths and SUDEP.

Temporal lobes

One of the 4 lobes of the brain. The temporal lobes are responsible for many functions, such as hearing, speech, memory, and emotions. Focal seizures starting in the temporal lobes are common.


A type of epileptic seizure that causes the person to lose consciousness and convulse. A tonic-clonic seizure is what most people think of when they think of a seizure. In the past they were called ‘grand-mal’ seizures.

About tonic-clonic seizures.


A seizure trigger is something that makes a seizure more likely for some people with epilepsy. Triggers do not cause epilepsy, but they can make a seizure more likely.

See About epilepsy.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)

Vagus nerve stimulation is used as a treatment for some people with epilepsy. VNS therapy is delivered through a device implanted in the chest (a bit like a pacemaker). It sends signals to the vagus nerve at regular intervals to try and stop or reduce the intensity of seizures.

The Epilepsy Action website has more information about vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and epilepsy.


Video EEG

This is an EEG (see EEG) that involves making a video recording at the same time as the EEG. It can also be called video-telemetry.

The Epilepsy Action website has more information about video telemetry.

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