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
Partial seizures are the most common type of seizure in people 1 year and older. In people older than 65 who have blood vessel disease of the brain or brain tumors, partial seizures are very common.
People 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 or limb 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
- Flushed face
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate/pulse
Other symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
The doctor will perform a physical exam. This will include a detailed look at the brain and nervous system.
An EEG (electroencephalogram) will be done to check the electrical activity in the brain. People with seizures often have abnormal electrical activity seen on this test. In some cases, the test shows the area in the brain where the seizures start. The brain may appear normal after a seizure or between seizures.
Blood tests may also be ordered to check for other health problems that may be causing the seizures.
Focal seizure; Jacksonian seizure; Seizure - partial (focal); Temporal lobe seizure; Epilepsy - partial seizures
Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 101.
Wiebe S. The epilepsies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 403.
Review Date 2/27/2018
Updated by: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.