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Partial (focal) seizure

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 divided into:

  • 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; Epilepsy - partial seizures

Causes

Partial seizures are the most common type of seizure in persons 1 year and older. In persons older than 65 who have blood vessel disease of the brain, partial seizures are very common.

Symptoms

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

Depending on where in the brain the seizure starts, symptoms can include:

  • Abnormal muscle contraction, such as abnormal head movements
  • Staring spells, sometimes with repetitive movements such as picking at clothes or lip smacking
  • Eyes moving from side to side
  • Abnormal sensations, such as numbness, tingling, crawling sensation (like ants crawling on the skin)
  • Hallucinations – seeing, smelling, or sometimes hearing things that are not there
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Flushed face
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate/pulse

Other symptoms may include:

  • Blackout spells -- periods of time lost from memory
  • Changes in vision
  • Sensation of déjà vu (feeling like current place and time have been experienced before)
  • Changes in mood or emotion
  • Temporary inability to speak

Treatment

For information on diagnosis and treatment, see:

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.

Wiebe S. The epilepsies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 410.


Review Date: 2/20/2014
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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