Partial (focal) seizure

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Definition

All seizures are caused by abnormal electrical disturbances in the brain. Partial (focal) seizures occur when this electrical activity remains in a limited area of the brain. The seizures can sometimes turn into generalized seizures, which affect the whole brain. This is called secondary generalization.

Partial seizures can be further characterized as:

  • Simple -- not affecting awareness or memory
  • Complex -- affecting awareness or memory of events before, during, and immediately after the seizure, and affecting behavior

Alternative Names

Focal seizure; Jacksonian seizure; Seizure - partial (focal); Temporal lobe seizure

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Symptoms

Patients with focal seizures can have any of the symptoms below, depending on where in the brain the seizure starts.

Patients with simple focal seizures do not lose consciousness. They will be aware of and remember the events that occur at the time.

Patients with complex partial seizures may or may not remember any or all of the symptoms or events during the seizure.

Symptoms can include:

  • Abnormal muscle contraction
    • Muscle contraction/relaxation (clonic activity) -- common
    • Affects one side of the body (leg, part of the face, or other area)
    • Abnormal head movements
    • Forced turning of the head
  • Staring spells, with or without complex, repetitive movements (such as picking at clothes) -- these are called automatisms and include:
    • Abnormal mouth movements
    • Lip smacking
    • Behaviors that seem to be a habit
    • Chewing/swallowing without cause
  • Forced turning of the eyes
  • Abnormal sensations
    • , , crawling sensation (like ants crawling on the skin)
    • May occur in only one part of the body, or may spread
    • May occur with or without motor symptoms
  • Hallucinations
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Flushed face
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate/pulse

Other symptoms include:

Signs and tests

Treatment

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Prevention

References

Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 67.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 2/27/2013
  • Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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This page was last updated: April 14, 2014

         
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