What Is Focal Seizures?

Every year, there are approximately 150,000 Americans finding they have central nervous system disorder which may cause seizures. 1 in 26 people at some point of life will be diagnosed with it.Seizures can cause symptoms like temporary blank staring, uncontrollable twitching, or loss of awareness. Seizures should always be watched closely because sometimes minor seizures may be life-threatening if they occur during driving, swimming, diving and other activities.

Understanding Focal Seizures

The brain is filled with thousands of transmitters known as neurons. These nerve cells use electrical impulses and chemicals to communicate with each other and tell our muscles and organs what to do. If a person has epilepsy, sometimes these signals become crossed and the electrical current becomes scrambled. Instead of passing in an orderly manner from one cell to the next, the signals spill over into a clump of cells or even throughout the whole brain. That is when a seizure occurs. If only part of the brain is affected, the seizures are classified as focal seizures, also known as partial seizures.

Symptoms of Focal Seizures

The symptoms of focal seizures can vary widely depending on which part of the brain is involved. Although the seizures normally occur in the same part of the brain in an individual, they can appear completely different from one person to another so it becomes more difficult to diagnose the condition. Some of the symptoms that may occur include:

  • A blank stare and seeming unawareness of surroundings or other people nearby
  • Jerking movements in a leg or arm
  • Sudden, intense feelings of fear, happiness, or other emotions with no apparent cause
  • Abrupt feeling of dizziness or loss of balance
  • Changes in vision, hallucinations
  • Intense tastes or smells, usually enjoyable, such as a favorite food, even though that item is not present
  • Repetitive movements such as lip smacking, fidgeting, pacing, chewing, or other involuntary activities

Simple Partial Seizures vs. Complex Partial Seizures

There are 3 types of partial seizures. Those include simple partial seizures, where one remains aware of their surroundings, complex partial seizures, where awareness is lost, and those partial complex seizures that grow into secondary general seizures, which begin as a simple, focal seizure but advances into a full-blown seizure where loss of consciousness and convulsions occur.

Simple Focal Seizure

There are 4 types of simple focal seizures, divided by the symptoms experienced and when the symptoms occur, the person does not lose awareness of his or her surroundings.

  • Motor symptoms involve movements such as jerking or spasms.
  • Autonomic symptoms impact the collection of nerves that control our organs like the stomach, heart, kidneys, and others. They may include issues such as racing heartbeat, loss of bladder control, diarrhea, upset stomach, and more.
  • Sensory symptoms may involve any of the 5 senses and may cause vision impairment, unusual tastes or smells, or unexplained sounds or sensations. If sensory symptoms are the only symptoms experienced during a focal seizure, they are termed as “auras”.
  • Psychological symptoms affect things like memory or emotions, provoking strong feelings of joy, fear, sadness, or other psychological sensations.

Complex Partial Seizures

On the other hand, complex partial seizuresinclude loss of awareness. The affected person may simply stare into space and not respond when spoken to or ignore other stimuli. They may show automatous symptoms such as lip smacking, arm jerking, head shaking, repeating of a word or phrase, or others. The movements, although coordinated, are usually repetitive and purposeless.

How Is Focal Seizure Treated?

If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of focal seizures or other signs of epilepsy, a thorough evaluation by a physician is necessary. They will gather a complete medical history, run tests, such as anelectroencephalogram (EEG) to see the electrical flow in the brain or a brain scan to look for scar tissues or other abnormalities that may be causing the seizure.

  • Medication is often used successfully to control seizures. When taking anti-seizure medications, such as Tegretol, Carbatrol, Felbatol and so on, patients should be supervised by their physician to make sure the medication is working properly. It may periodically be necessary to change the dosage or the type of medication being used to have the best effects. Make sure all medications are taken as directed and regularly. Besides, anti-seizure medications should never be stopped abruptly as this may trigger a seizure.
  • Always have your medical identification with you so if you do suffer a seizure, those around you will know how to help.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages because it can react badly with your medications.
  • Stay away from high places where a fall could occur.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you should drive and what type of work and leisure activities are safe for you.
  • Remember, you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from epilepsy and there is support available for you. Ask your doctor or search the internet for support groups and other resources that will help you live a normal, active life.

What to Do If You See Someone Having a Seizure

If you witness a person having a seizure, there are certain steps you should take to prevent them from getting hurt. Those include:

  • Keep them away from traffic.
  • Loosen clothes from around the neck.
  • Do not place anything in their mouth.
  • Remove any sharp objects from the immediate vicinity.
  • If lying down, roll the person on their side and place a pillow or other soft object under their head.
  • Reassure any frightened bystanders by explaining what is happening.
  • If the person is combative or agitated, keep at a safe distance.

Seizures normally last about 1 to 2 minutes. If a seizure continues for more than 5 minute, or if the person is a pregnant woman or a diabetic, it is considered a medical emergency and medical assistance should be sought immediately. Following a seizure the person may feel disoriented for several minutes.