Partial Seizures
The human brain operates by conducting electrical signals through neurons (nerve cells). A seizure occurs when there is a surge in this ele...

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What is a Partial Seizure?

The human brain operates by conducting electrical signals through neurons (nerve cells). A seizure occurs when there is 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, but when it occurs in just one area, it is called a partial seizure.

A partial seizure may occur for many reasons including epilepsy, brain tumors or infections, heat stroke, or low blood sugar. A seizure, by itself, cannot be treated, and must be allowed to run its course. To reduce the incidence of partial seizures, the underlying cause must be diagnosed and treated. Most people who experience seizures are able to live normal lives with appropriate treatment.

Types of Seizures

All seizures are the physical effects 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 localized to just one part of the brain. This is also called a focal seizure but it can change into a generalized seizure, one in which the entire brain is affected.

A partial seizure can be categorized as two distinct types:

Simple Partial Seizure

If you experience a simple partial seizure, you will not lose consciousness, and it will last for a minute or less. You will remember what happened after the seizure has passed.

Complex Partial Seizure

If the seizure is complex, you may lose consciousness and you will not remember what happened. A complex seizure can last for a minute or two and may be preceded by a warning sign such as a feeling of uneasiness or nausea. You may feel sleepy and confused afterwards.

What Are the Symptoms of a Partial Seizure?

Because a partial seizure affects just one part of the brain, the symptoms are varied depending on the particular event. For instance, if the disturbance occurs 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 the body
  • unusual head or eye movements
  • numbness, tingling, or a feeling that something is crawling on the 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

What Causes Partial Seizures?

There are many different conditions and situations that can cause seizures of any type. In some cases, the cause may be unknown and may never be found. These are called idiopathic seizures.

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 (those that occur before birth)
  • stroke
  • poisoning or venomous bites or stings
  • heat stroke
  • low blood sugar
  • withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • phenylketonuria (a genetic disorder that causes brain damage and mental retardation)

How Are Partial Seizures Diagnosed?

A seizure itself is not difficult to diagnose. By describing the experience or the symptoms that others observed to your doctor, you can find out if you were having a seizure. 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 what is causing seizures.

What Are the Treatments for Partial Seizures?

A partial seizure cannot be treated as it is happening. It must simply be allowed to 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 is helpful to keep other people and objects out of the way until it is over. The muscle contractions can cause the sufferer to lash out and hurt themselves. By clearing the area of objects and people, you reduce the possibility of injury. There is nothing that can be done to stop or speed up the episode.

How Can You Prevent Partial Seizures?

Seizures cannot always be prevented, but they can be controlled with medications. If you are on a medication for this purpose, take it as instructed by your doctor and do not 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 diagnosed as having had a partial seizure varies depending on the underlying cause. In general, however, seizures can be controlled effectively with medications and lifestyle changes. Only in very severe and intractable cases, where medical treatment has failed, would surgery be considered.

Written by: Mary Ellen Ellis
Edited by: Michael Harkin
Medically Reviewed by: Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP
Published: Jul 25, 2012
Last Updated: Apr 7, 2014
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
Sources:
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