Difference Between Seizures and Epilepsy

Main Difference – Seizures vs Epilepsy

Seizures and Epilepsy are two medical conditions which are often used interchangeably due to several similar features they share. However, as far as the depth of the two concepts is concerned, the main difference between seizures and Epilepsy lies in the number of episodes; a seizure is a single occurrence of jerky movements and other features of a fit, whereas Epilepsy is a two or more than two unprovoked seizures occurring in an individual.

This article will describe

1. What are Seizures? – Clinical Features, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment 

2. What is Epilepsy? – Clinical Features, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment 

3. What is the difference between Seizures and Epilepsy?

Difference Between Seizures and Epilepsy - Seizures vs Epilepsy Comparison Summary

What is a Seizure

Seizure is defined as a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain, affecting the way a person behaves or appears for a short period of time. Being a symptom of the neurological condition known as Epilepsy, it is characterized by several episodes of seizures.

There are 3 major types of seizures, as follows.

Non-epileptic Seizures

Also known as pseudo seizures, non-epileptic seizures are not accompanied by an abnormal electrical activity in the brain and can be triggered by psychological issues or stressful events. Unfortunately, these will often appear as true seizures, making the diagnosis quite difficult.

EEG studies are highly important in ruling out this condition, to make a proper diagnosis of a true seizure. Not having typical EEG readings and zero response to anti-epileptic drugs are the two main clues which will depict that an individual is not suffering from a true seizure.

However, this type of a seizure can be effectively treated with psychotherapy and psychiatric drugs.

Provoked Seizures

Provoked Seizures are defined as a set of single seizures which may occur following trauma, hypoglycemia, low blood sodium levels, high fever, severe alcoholism or drug abuse. Fever-related seizures or febrile seizures are common among infants and can be seen from the age of 6 months to 6 years.

Such single episodes of seizures can be managed symptomatically (rectal diazepam, midazolam, phenytoin, phenobarbital) whereas long-term anti-epileptic drugs are usually not used when close evaluation predicts a very low risk of recurrence.

Seizure Disorder

Seizure disorder is a general term used to refer to any condition where seizures occur as a symptom. This is also used interchangeably with the term Epilepsy.

Difference Between Seizures and Epilepsy

What is Epilepsy

Epilepsy is defined as a neurological condition in which brain’s electrical activities are disturbed due to some sort of an underlying condition.

Even though the exact etiology of Epilepsy is not known in about 2/3 of the diagnosed cases, a positive family history, head injury, traumatic brain injury, stroke, brain tumor, Alzheimer’s disease, birth asphyxia, meningitis and encephalitis are thought to be playing some sort of an important role in the pathogenesis. 

There are two major types of Epilepsy, based on the characteristics as observed below.

Partial Seizures (Focal Seizures)

Partial seizures involves only a specific part of the brain and the seizure signs and symptoms will appear only on one side of the body.

Most common features of Partial seizures include jerky movements, tingling sensation, dizziness, repetitive motions, staring, confusion and emotional changes.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures affect the whole brain resulting in changes of the entire body.

Patients will usually experience convulsions, twitch movements, loss of consciousness, falls, tongue biting, lip smacking, salivation, fecal and urinary incontinence and stiffening of the body.

Complete details about the exact nature of signs and symptoms related to the seizure episode and their duration with a thorough physical examination of the body will be required to come to a certain diagnosis.

A capillary blood sugar measurement is mandatory to exclude Hypoglycemia. Measuring the electrolyte levels to assess the level of hydration is also important because dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can be a major cause of seizures. Cerebrospinal fluid studies can be done via a lumbar puncture in suspected cases of meningitis and encephalitis. Toxicology screening should also be done depending on the other clinical features since substance abuse or poisoning with chemicals such as lead, alcohol, and opioids can also give rise to seizure attacks.

Anti-epileptic drugs and anti-convulsants are the two major drug types used by patients with epilepsy. However, pharmacological management should only be started after establishing an accurate diagnosis of epilepsy, and drug treatments should be continuously reviewed since there can be lots of side effects. Common anti-epileptic drugs include Primidone, Topiramate, Gabapentin, Clonazepam

Surgical management is indicated for patients who do not respond to at least two different types of drugs, and the commonest mode of surgery is of a resective kind known as temporal lobectomy.

Difference Between Seizures and Epilepsy


Seizure is a single occurrence of jerky movements and other features of a fit.

Epilepsy is defined as two or more than two unprovoked seizures occurring in an individual.


Seizures usually do not need any treatment with anti-epileptic drugs or surgery.

But, once you are diagnosed with epilepsy, the specific drugs will be mandatory with an accurate review and follow-up where non-responding patients night need surgery.

Image Courtesy:

“Attaque; Periode Epileptoide. Planche XVII. Wellcome L0074938” By Welcome Images (CC BY 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music