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Focal Onset Seizures (Partial Seizures)
The human brain works by sending electrical signals through neurons, which are nerve cells. A seizure occurs when there's a surge in this elect...

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What Is a Partial Seizure?

The human brain works by sending electrical signals through neurons, which are nerve cells. A seizure occurs when there’s a surge in this electrical activity. This causes a host of physical symptoms, such as muscle contractions, visual disturbances, and blackouts. Seizures can affect the entire brain. A partial seizure is when a seizure occurs in just one area.

A partial seizure may occur for many reasons, including epilepsy, brain tumors or infections, heat stroke, or low blood sugar. A seizure can’t be treated and must run its course. Diagnosing and treating the underlying cause can help reduce the number of partial seizures. Most people who experience seizures are able to live normal lives with appropriate treatment.

Types of Seizures

A seizure is the result of experiencing a surge of electrical activity in the brain. The electrical disturbance can produce a variety of physical symptoms. This is especially true with a partial seizure, which is a seizure that is focused in just one part of the brain. This is also called a focal seizure, but it can change into a generalized seizure, which affects the entire brain.

There are two types of partial seizures.

Simple Partial Seizure

You won’t lose consciousness during a simple partial seizure, and it will last for a minute or less. You’ll remember what happened after the seizure passes. Simple seizures can sometimes cause you to feel fearful or anxious.

Complex Partial Seizure

You may lose consciousness during a complex partial seizure, and you won’t remember what happened. A complex seizure can last for a minute or two, and you may feel a warning sign such as a feeling of uneasiness or nausea before the seizure. You may feel sleepy and confused after the seizure.

What Causes Partial Seizures?

There are many different conditions and situations that can cause seizures of any type. Sometimes, the cause is never discovered. A seizure without a known cause is called an idiopathic seizure.

Some of the possible causes of partial seizures are:

  • epilepsy
  • liver or kidney failure
  • very high blood pressure
  • use of illegal drugs
  • brain infections, such as meningitis
  • brain and head injuries
  • congenital brain defects, which are brain defects that occur before birth
  • stroke
  • poisoning or venomous bites or stings
  • heat stroke
  • low blood sugar
  • withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • phenylketonuria, which is a genetic disorder that causes brain damage and mental disability

What Are the Symptoms of a Partial Seizure?

Because a partial seizure affects just one part of the brain, the symptoms vary depending on the particular event. For instance, if the disturbance is in the part of your brain that affects vision, you may have hallucinations or see bright lights.

Other possible symptoms of partial seizures include:

  • muscle contractions, followed by relaxation
  • contractions on just one side of your body
  • unusual head or eye movements
  • numbness, tingling, or a feeling that something is crawling on your skin
  • abdominal pain
  • rapid heart rate or pulse
  • automatisms (repetitive movements), such as picking at clothes or skin, staring, lip smacking, and chewing or swallowing
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • flushed face
  • dilated pupils, vision changes, or hallucinations
  • mood changes
  • blackouts

How Are Partial Seizures Diagnosed?

A seizure itself isn’t difficult to diagnose. Your doctor can diagnose a seizure after listening to your description of your experience or the symptoms other people observed. Of more concern and more difficulty is determining the underlying cause. Depending upon your symptoms and your medical history, your doctor may run any number of tests, such as brain imaging scans, blood tests, or a spinal tap to find out the cause of your seizures.

What Are the Treatments for Partial Seizures?

A partial seizure can’t be treated as it’s happening. It must simply run its course while the person having the event is kept safe. Your doctor may, however, be able to treat the cause of seizures. If seizures are recurring, you may be given a medication to prevent them.

If someone is having a seizure of any type, it’s helpful to keep other people and objects out of the way until the seizure is over. The muscle contractions can cause the person having the seizure to lash out and hurt themselves. Clearing the area of objects and people reduces the risk of injury. There’s nothing that can be done to stop or speed up the episode.

How Can You Prevent Partial Seizures?

You can’t always prevent seizures, but you can control them with medications. If you’re on a medication for this purpose, take it as instructed by your doctor and don’t miss doses. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising, and minimizing stress.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook for People Who Experience Partial Seizures?

The outlook for someone who has had a partial seizure varies depending on the underlying cause. In general, however, you can control seizures effectively with medications and lifestyle changes. Surgery is only a consideration for very severe, intractable cases in which medical treatment doesn’t work.

Written by: Mary Ellen Ellis
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: [Ljava.lang.Object;@1d1189b5
Published: Oct 22, 2015
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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