They can be subtle and sometimes there are no early signs

Epilepsy causes recurrent seizures, and most of the time, there are no recognizable signs of epilepsy before the first seizure occurs. However, for some people, there may be some early signs that epilepsy will develop before seizures begin.

Additionally, some types of seizures are somewhat subtle and are not always recognized as seizures. Therefore, some people might not realize that they have epilepsy or might not seek medical attention until seizures recur or become more severe.

This article will discuss the early signs of epilepsy in babies, children, and adults. It will also cover the warning signs of a seizure, causes of epilepsy, and what to do during a seizure.

Early Signs of Epilepsy

Some people have epilepsy as part of another neurological condition, such as a developmental disorder or dementia. These conditions cause problems with learning, attention, memory, vision, or physical movements.

For adults, children, and babies, seizures may be obvious and can include shaking and stiffening of one or both sides of the body. However, sometimes they can be subtle and may cause changes such as a lack of attention, staring into space, eye fluttering, blinking, or a lack of responsiveness.

When seizures are subtle, sometimes people may not notice that they have epilepsy until seizures that involve substantial changes in consciousness or physical movements occur. The subtle events may begin to have a serious impact or occur frequently.


Adults who develop epilepsy may begin to have seizures as a result of brain damage from head trauma, a brain tumor, or a stroke. In these situations, neurological symptoms can occur because of the underlying condition.

These problems may include weakness or difficulty controlling one side of the body, coordination problems, personality changes, memory deficits, or thinking problems.


Children may develop epilepsy due to a neurodevelopmental condition that they are born with. Children with developmental conditions may also have problems such as delayed walking, difficulty with learning, vision problems, attention problems, or behavioral difficulties.


Babies may develop seizures due to a severe brain injury that occurred during development that may sometimes be related to a genetic condition. Sometimes associated growth problems can be detected even before a baby is born.

Some babies who have epilepsy from birth have problems with muscle tone and muscle control, which can cause stiff muscles or very floppy muscles, and this could be part of a neurological syndrome that includes epilepsy. Additionally, babies who have epilepsy may have abnormalities in their sleep patterns.

Warnings of a Seizure

Some people have symptoms that can occur prior to a seizure or during the early part of a seizure, and the symptoms may be considered a warning sign if they are recognizable. This may be called the prodrome, and some people also refer to an aura as a seizure warning.

Prodrome Stage

A prodrome is a feeling people have prior to experiencing a seizure. This may include unusual sensations or emotions, or a sense of extreme fatigue. Many times, people who have epilepsy will begin to recognize a specific recurrent prodrome. But a person who has a prodrome prior to their seizures may not always experience it before a seizure.

Aura Stage

An aura sometimes occurs at the beginning of a seizure. Neurologists consider an aura to be a focal seizure, which means a seizure that only involves one area of the brain. Aura symptoms can include unusual sensations or feelings or small movements of one part of the body. These generally last for several seconds at a time.

Sometimes an aura can develop into a more widespread seizure involving larger regions or both sides of the brain and can include involuntary movements of the body.

Epilepsy Causes

Epilepsy is a condition in which a person has recurrent seizures or a predisposition to having recurrent seizures. This condition occurs because of abnormal and uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain.

There are many causes of epilepsy, and they all involve some type of variation in the structure of the brain that predisposes you to the electrical discharges that cause a seizure.

Risk factors include:

  • Genetic epilepsy syndromes (can be inherited or develop without a hereditary pattern)
  • Low oxygen or another severe stress to the fetus during fetal development
  • Brain injury due to head trauma
  • Brain damage from a stroke
  • Toxins, such as alcohol, causing metabolic damage to the brain
  • Health problems, such as heart disease or cancer
  • Psychiatric conditions
  • Alzheimer’s disease (a progressive dementia)

Seizures can also be idiopathic, meaning without an identifiable cause or risk factor.

What to Do During a Seizure

If you witness someone having a seizure, the most important thing to do is to keep them safe. You should not try to move them or put anything in their mouth. However, if possible, keep them away from anything sharp, from water that could cause drowning, or from a place where they could fall.

When to Contact Emergency Services During a Seizure

Call for emergency help in the following circumstances:

  • A first seizure (also call if you don’t know the person or their medical history, as it may be a first seizure)
  • Seizure lasting for longer than 30 seconds
  • Seizure clusters, which are recurrent seizures very quickly back to back
  • A person is pregnant and having a seizure
  • An injury during or after a seizure
  • A person does not quickly regain consciousness after a seizure

When to Seek Care

You should get prompt medical attention if you are having episodes that could be seizures.

This includes:

  • Spacing out (the person looks awake but is not responsive to something like a tap on the shoulder or a verbal cue)
  • Having episodes of not remembering what happened
  • Unexplained injuries or falls
  • Involuntary shaking or stiffening of any part of your body
  • Diminished level of awareness
  • Changes in personality
  • Weakness or numbness of any part of your body
  • Vision changes

The symptoms could indicate a seizure or another neurological problem that would need to be evaluated.


Some people may have symptoms before being diagnosed with epilepsy. The symptoms can occur if the seizures are subtle. Additionally, other symptoms that may occur before epilepsy involve childhood motor or learning difficulties. Adults may have problems related to a stroke or head trauma experienced before epilepsy.

Many people who have epilepsy also experience pre-seizure symptoms, which are described as a prodrome, and some people have an aura, which is a brief focal seizure prior to having a more noticeable seizure.

A Word From Verywell

If you have symptoms that seem unusual and involve your physical movements and level of consciousness, it is possible that you may have a neurological problem.

Most people do not experience signs or symptoms of epilepsy before the first seizure, but if you are having any symptoms at all, it is very important that you get medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to better overall outcomes.


  • How is epilepsy diagnosed?

    Epilepsy is a clinical diagnosis that is based on a medical history. Sometimes diagnostic tests can be helpful in determining if someone is having seizures. Tests may include brain imaging studies and an electroencephalogram (EEG). However, sometimes test results can be normal even if a person has epilepsy.

  • What are the after effects of a seizure?

    Most people feel very tired and groggy after a seizure and often do not recall the event. Many people feel confused or disoriented after having a seizure.

    Some people have weakness in one part of the body after a seizure. The weakness corresponds to the area of the brain where the seizure started, if it was a focal seizure. These post-seizure symptoms can last from minutes to days.

Can you suddenly develop epilepsy?

Yes, it is possible to suddenly develop epilepsy. Sometimes it occurs with a known cause, such as a stroke or head trauma, and sometimes it is idiopathic (without a known cause).


Source:, Heidi Moawad