4 Subtle Signs You May Have Had a Seizure Without Realizing It

They don't always look like you might think.

Sometimes a seizure looks like it does in a movie—the victim falling to the ground, convulsing and going unconscious. But experts warn that because there are many different types of seizures, this is just one of many possible presentations of seizure symptoms. People who experience petit mal seizures (also called "absence seizures"), which typically last less than 10 seconds, may experience behavioral changes so subtle that they are completely unaware of their condition. Read on for four small signs you may have had a seizure without even realizing it.

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You experience a sudden stop in motion without falling.

eenager female young woman sad depressed or thoughtful looking out of a window

One feature of an absence seizure is a temporary loss of consciousness, without passing out. This can also be a sign of complex focal seizures, which can occur in people with frontal lobe epilepsy.

In some people, it is difficult to discern that the person experiencing the seizure is unconscious. "If you are having a typical absence seizure, you will be unconscious for a few seconds. You will suddenly stop doing whatever you were doing before it started, but will not fall," explains Epilepsy Action, a UK-based charity. "You might appear to be daydreaming or 'switching off,' or people around you might not notice your absence," their experts write.

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You make lip smacking or chewing movements.

Sad senior man looking in bathroom mirror and touch his face skin with fingers. Concept grow old.

Though it can be difficult to detect an absence seizure by a subtle lack of consciousness alone, you may learn of your condition if those around you notice some of their more distinct symptoms. These sometimes include "oral automatisms" such as lip smacking or involuntary chewing movements. A 2009 study published in JAMA Archives of Neurology noted that involuntary swallowing and lip licking were among the most common oral symptoms for this type of seizure.

If you see someone experiencing this symptom, it's important not to attempt to stop their movements—especially not by inserting an object between their teeth. "A person may bite down during a seizure if their jaw and face muscles tighten. If something is in their mouth, they could break and swallow the object, or break their teeth," explains the Epilepsy Foundation. They add that despite folk wisdom suggesting otherwise, "a person can't swallow their tongue during a seizure."

Your eyelids begin fluttering.

Eye Pain And Spasm Symptoms. Girl Face With Itching

Eyelid fluttering is another subtle sign that you may be experiencing an absence seizure. Sometimes the eyes will turn upward, and may appear to roll back in the head.

These symptoms are shared by other forms of epilepsy, such as epilepsy with eyelid myoclonia, also known as Jeavons syndrome. It is possible to display this symptom without an accompanying absence seizure or loss of consciousness.

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Your hands make small movements, including finger rubbing.

rubbing fingers

The JAMA study also found that "manual automatisms"—small finger movements such as finger rubbing, fidgeting, hand wringing, scratching, and picking—were also common signs of absence seizures. Some people who have this type of seizure also experience more generalized jerking movement in their hands or limbs.

If you've experienced any of these symptoms and suspect they may be the result of a seizure, speak with your healthcare provider.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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