The stages of a seizure occur in a sequence, with the prodrome and aura at the beginning, the ictal stage usually in the middle, and the post-ictal stage after the seizure has ended.

It is helpful to know the phases and how they occur in sequence. However, many people do not have all the phases every time they have a seizure.

Each stage has certain symptoms, although these may vary for each person, depending on the type of seizure.

This article looks at the different seizure stages and typical symptoms for each.

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Phase 1 of a seizure may include the prodromal stage and early ictal, or aura, stage.

These stages may warn people that a seizure is about to happen.

Not everyone who has seizures will experience a prodrome or aura.

Learn about the signs and symptoms of a seizure.

Prodromal stage

A prodrome is a sensation or particular feeling that people may experience before having a seizure.

The prodromal stage may happen hours or days before the seizure occurs.

Symptoms of the prodromal stage may include:

The prodromal stage spans from the onset of these early symptoms to when symptoms of the seizure itself begin.

The prodromal stage may not occur with every seizure. Around 20% of people with epilepsy may experience the prodromal stage.

Aura

In many cases, the aura — or early ictal stage — is the first stage of a seizure.

People are conscious and aware during the aura. It can last for minutes or longer, but it might not occur at all.

According to Cure Epilepsy, around 65% of people with epilepsy may experience aura as part of their seizures.

Symptoms of aura may include:

  • out-of-body sensations
  • deja vu
  • hallucinations
  • vision changes
  • nausea
  • pain or twitching in the arms or legs
  • changes in taste and smell
  • numbness and tingling
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • panic
  • intense feelings of fear, anger, joy, or sadness
  • jamais vu, a feeling of seeing something familiar for the first time
  • hearing ringing or buzzing sounds

An aura may or may not progress to a prolonged or more severe seizure.

The ictal stage of a seizure is when a person displays seizure symptoms, such as involuntary movements and reduced awareness.

Intense abnormal electrical activity in the brain occurs during this stage.

It may last for up to a few minutes. When the ictal stage lasts for more than 5 minutes, healthcare professionals consider it status epilepticus.

Status epilepticus is dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of the ictal stage vary with the type of seizure but may include:

The post-ictal stage happens after the seizure has ended. It is the recovery period in which people will feel the after-effects of a seizure.

Symptoms of the post-ictal stage may include:

Sometimes, there can be temporary paralysis after a focal onset seizure. Experts refer to this as Todd’s paralysis.

Todd’s paralysis usually occurs on one side of the body. It can last from 30 minutes to 36 hours.

Recovery from a seizure may depend on the type of seizure a person had, seizure severity, and the area of the brain where it took place.

People may or may not remember having a seizure once it is over, or they may only remember parts of it.

People may experience the ending stage very briefly following a seizure. In other cases, the recovery period may last for hours or days before people feel back to normal.

People may need to allow themselves time to rest after a seizure. If people have any serious injuries from a seizure, they will need to seek medical help straight away.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about seizures and seizure stages.

What are the three main types of seizures?

The three main types of seizures are:

  • Focal onset seizures: Focal seizures begin in one side of the brain. Focal onset seizures include focal onset aware seizures, if a person remains aware during a seizure, and focal onset impaired awareness seizures, if a person has a change in their awareness during a seizure.
  • Generalized onset seizures: Generalized seizures occur in both sides of the brain at the same time. Generalized seizures include seizures such as tonic-clonic, atonic, and absence seizures.
  • Unknown onset seizures: If it is not clear where in the brain a seizure begins, it is an unknown onset seizure.

What are the three signs of a seizure?

The signs of a seizure vary depending on the type of seizure but may include:

  • changes in movement, such as shaking, falling, or muscle spasms
  • changes in awareness, such as confusion, staring into space, or loss of consciousness
  • changes in mood and sensation, such as feelings of fear, sensory changes, or deja vu

What is a stage 1 seizure?

The earliest phases of a seizure are the prodromal stage and the aura.

The aura, or early ictal stage, includes the first symptoms of an impending seizure.

Although aura is common with seizures, not everyone will experience it. The seizure may or may not progress beyond the aura stage.

If people only experience an aura, doctors refer to it as a focal seizure, although it may develop into a complex focal seizure.

A seizure causes abnormal activity in the brain and consists of different stages, each with its own symptoms.

There are four main stages of a seizure:

  • prodromal stage
  • aura, or early ictal stage
  • ictal stage
  • post-ictal stage

People may experience each stage differently depending on the type and severity of the seizure and which area of the brain it affects. Some people may not experience the prodromal or aura stages.