What are Partial Seizures and Focal Seizures?

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Feb 24, 2011
Quick Bites

  • With a partial seizure, the burst of electrical activity stays in one part of the brain.
  • Therefore, you tend to have localised (focal) symptoms.
  • A simple partial seizure usually lasts just a few seconds or minutes.
  • During complex seizure, you are not aware of your surroundings.

Allan’s seizures usually occur while she's asleep. He makes a grunting sound, as if he's clearing his throat. Then he'll sit up in bed, open his eyes, and stare. He may clasp his hands together. If his wife asks him what he's doing, he doesn't answer. After a minute or so, he lies down and goes back to sleep. This is a typical story of a complex partial seizure.

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.

With a partial seizure, the burst of electrical activity stays in one part of the brain. Therefore, you tend to have localised (focal) symptoms. Different parts of the brain control different functions and so symptoms depend on which part of the brain is affected.

Simple partial seizures

In this type of seizure you may have muscular jerks or strange sensations in one arm or leg. You may feel, hear, see, smell, or taste odd sensations. Some people develop pins and needles in one part of the body. However, you do not lose consciousness or awareness. A simple partial seizure usually lasts just a few seconds or minutes. For each individual, the same movement or sensation tends to recur each time a seizure occurs.


Complex partial seizures

During this type of partial seizure, you are not aware of your surroundings, or of what you are doing. In effect, you have a partial loss of consciousness (which differs from a simple partial seizure). This type of seizure can arise from any part of the brain but most commonly arises from a temporal lobe (a part of the brain). Therefore, this type is sometimes called temporal lobe seizure.

The temporal lobes of the brain help to deal with mood and behaviour. Therefore, you may have strange feelings, sensations, and emotions during a complex partial seizure. It may feel like being in a dream. Your surroundings may appear strange or oddly familiar. It may be difficult to explain the feelings or sensations that occur. To an onlooker, you may appear to be in a trance or behave strangely for a few seconds or minutes. For example, you may wander with no apparent purpose. Some people smack their lips, fumble at clothes, appear to fidget, swallow repeatedly, or do other repetitive movements.

Sometimes a partial seizure develops into a generalised convulsive seizure. This is called a secondary generalised seizure.

Symptoms can include:

1. 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


2. Staring spells, with or without complex, repetitive movements (such as picking at clothes) -- these are called automatisms and include:

  • Abnormal mouth movements
  • Lip smacking
  • Behaviours that seem to be a habit
  • Chewing/swallowing without cause

3. Forced turning of the eyes
4. Abnormal sensations

  • Numbness, tingling, 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

5. Hallucinations
6. Abdominal pain or discomfort
7. Nausea
8. Sweating
9. Flushed face
10. Dilated pupils
11. Rapid heart rate/pulse

Other symptoms include:

  • Blackout spells -- periods of time lost from memory
  • Changes in vision
  • Sensation of déjà vu
  • Changes in mood or emotion

References taken from: Medicine Plus, Patient.co.uk

Image Source: Getty Images



Read more articles on Partial Seizures Focal Seizures.


Is it Helpful Article?YES10611 Views 0 Comment
  • All
  • Article
  • Slideshow
  • Video
            I have read the Privacy Policy and the Terms and Conditions. I provide my consent for my data to be processed for the purposes as described and receive communications for service related information.
            This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK