Partial seizure

Focal seizure
Classification and external resources
Specialty neurology
ICD-10 G40.0-G40.2
ICD-9-CM 345.4-345.5
MedlinePlus 000697
MeSH D004828

Focal seizures (also called partial seizures[1][2] and localized seizures) are seizures which affect initially only one hemisphere of the brain.[3][4] The brain is divided into two hemispheres, each consisting of four lobes – the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes. In partial seizures the seizure is generated in and affects just one part of the brain – the whole hemisphere or part of a lobe. Symptoms will vary according to where the seizure occurs. In the frontal lobe symptoms may include a wave-like sensation in the head; in the temporal lobe, a feeling of déjà vu; in the parietal lobe, a numbness or tingling; and in the occipital lobe, visual disturbance or hallucination.[5]

Partial seizures are split into two main categories; simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures. A new classification system for partial seizures has been described in the 18th Edition of Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine (released July 2011). The new classification splits partial seizures into "partial seizures with dyscognitive features" and "partial seizures without dyscognitive features".

In simple partial seizures a small part of one of the lobes may be affected and the person remains conscious. This will often be a precursor to a larger seizure such as a complex partial seizure. When this is the case, the simple partial seizure is usually called an aura.

A complex partial seizure affects a larger part of the hemisphere than a simple partial seizure and the person may lose consciousness.

If a partial seizure spreads from one hemisphere to the other side of the brain, this will give rise to a secondarily generalised seizure. The person will become unconscious and may well have a tonic clonic seizure.

Partial seizures are common in temporal lobe epilepsy.

Simple partial seizure

Simple partial seizures are seizures which affect only a small region of the brain, often the temporal lobes or hippocampi. People who have simple partial seizures retain consciousness.[6] Simple partial seizures often precede larger seizures, where the abnormal electrical activity spreads to a larger area of (or all of) the brain, usually resulting in a complex partial seizure or a tonic-clonic seizure.[7] In this case they are often known as an aura.


Simple partial seizures are a very subjective experience, and the symptoms of a simple partial seizure vary greatly between people. This is due to the varying locations of the brain the seizures originate in e.g.: Rolandic. A simple partial seizure may go unnoticed by others or shrugged off by the sufferer as merely a "funny turn". Simple partial seizures usually start suddenly and are very brief, typically lasting 60 to 120 seconds.[8]

While awake some common symptoms of simple partial seizures are:[6]

When the seizure occurs during sleep, the person will often become semi-conscious and act out a dream they were having while engaging with the real environment as normal. Objects and people usually appear normal or only slightly distorted to them, and will be able to communicate with them on an otherwise normal level. However, since the person is still acting in the dream-like state from which they woke, they will assimilate any hallucinations or delusions into their communication, often speaking to a hallucinatory person or speaking of events or thoughts normally pertaining to the dream they were having or other hallucination.

While asleep symptoms include:

Although hallucinations may occur during simple partial seizures they are differentiated from psychotic symptoms by the fact that the person is usually aware that the hallucinations are not real.[8]

Jacksonian march

Jacksonian march or Jacksonian seizure is a phenomenon where a simple partial seizure spreads from the distal part of the limb toward the ipsilateral face (on same side of body). They involve a progression of the location of the seizure in the brain, which leads to a "march" of the motor presentation of symptoms.[9]

Jacksonian seizures are initiated with abnormal electrical activity within the primary motor cortex. They are unique in that they travel through the primary motor cortex in succession, affecting the corresponding muscles, often beginning with the fingers. This is felt as a tingling sensation, or a feeling of waves through the fingers when touched together. It then affects the hand and moves on to more proximal areas on the same side of body. Symptoms often associated with a Jacksonian seizure are sudden head and eye movements, tingling, numbness, smacking of the lips, and sudden muscle contractions. Most of the time any one of these actions can be seen as normal movements, without being associated with the seizure occurring. They occur at no particular moment and last only briefly. They may result in secondary generalized seizure involving both hemispheres. They can also start at the feet, manifesting as tingling or pins and needles, and there are painful cramps in the foot muscles, due to the signals from the brain. Because it is a partial seizure, the postictal state is of normal consciousness .


These seizures are named after their discoverer, John Hughlings Jackson,[10] an English neurologist, whose studies led to the discovery of the seizures' initiation point (in the primary motor cortex) in 1863.

Complex partial seizure

A complex partial seizure is an epileptic seizure that is associated with unilateral cerebral hemisphere involvement and causes impairment of awareness or responsiveness, i.e. alteration of consciousness.[11]


Complex partial seizures are often preceded by a seizure aura.[12] The seizure aura is a simple partial seizure.[12] The aura may manifest itself as a feeling of déjà vu, jamais vu, fear, euphoria or depersonalization.[13] The seizure aura might also occur as a visual disturbance, such as tunnel vision or a change in the perceived size of objects.[14] Once consciousness is impaired, the person may display automatisms such as lip smacking, chewing or swallowing.[13] There may also be loss of memory (amnesia) surrounding the seizural event.[12] The person may still be able to perform routine tasks such as walking, although such movements are not purposeful or planned. Witnesses may not recognize that anything is wrong.

Complex partial seizures might arise from any lobe of the brain.[12] Complex partial seizures most commonly arise from the mesial temporal lobe, particularly the amygdala, hippocampus, and neocortical regions.[15] A common associated brain abnormality is mesial temporal sclerosis.[13] Mesial temporal sclerosis is a specific pattern of hippocampal neuronal loss accompanied by hippocampal gliosis and atrophy.[16] Complex partial seizures occur when excessive and synchronous electrical brain activity causes impaired awareness and responsiveness.[17] The abnormal electrical activity might spread to the rest of the brain and cause a secondary generalized tonic–clonic seizure.[18]


  1. "focal seizure" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  2. "Partial (Focal) Seizures". Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  3. Bradley, Walter G. (2012). "67". Bradley's neurology in clinical practice. (6th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier/Saunders. ISBN 978-1437704341.
  4. "partial seizure" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  5. , Epilepsy Society - Are all seizures the same.
  6. 1 2 Steven C. Schachter, MD, and Joseph I. Sirven, MD (July 2013). "Simple Partial Seizures". Epilepsy Foundation. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  7. Amit M. Shelat (27 February 2016). "Partial (focal) seizure". MedlinePlus. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  8. 1 2 Hart, YM (2007). Epilepsy Questions and Answers. Merit Publishing. ISBN 1873413874.
  9. "Dorlands Medical Dictionary:jacksonian epilepsy".
  10. synd/3332 at Who Named It?
  11. Trescher, William H., and Ronald P. Lescher 2000, p. 1748.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Trescher, William H., and Ronald P. Lescher 2000, p. 1749.
  13. 1 2 3 Murro, Anthony M. 2006.
  14. Engelsen, B A., C Tzoulis, B Karlsen, A Lillebø, L M 2008.
  15. Trescher, William H., and Ronald P. Lescher 2000, p. 1750.
  16. Trepeta, Scott 2007.
  17. "International League Against Epilepsy." 2008.
  18. Trescher, William H., and Ronald P. Lescher 2000, p. 1747.
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