Seizures explained: Focal seizures

Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at the different types of seizures.

In this first part, our Helpline and Information Officer, Stuart Macgee looks at seizures which only affect one part of the brain. These are known as focal seizures, also known as partial seizures.

A common myth we come across on our helpline is that all seizures are the same. There are, in fact, many different types of seizures.

Some seizures only affect one part of the brain, others start in one part and spread across the whole of the brain, and others immediately affect the whole of the brain.

This determines what a seizure looks like.

Some seizures only last a few seconds, others a few minutes. For some people, they may have a seizure once a month, others may have daily frequent seizures.

Some people will only ever have seizures while asleep. You can have more than one type of seizures, and sometimes your seizures may change over time to a different type, become more frequent, or may last longer.

If this happens to you, always seek advice from your epilepsy specialist to have your medication reviewed.

The area most commonly affected in focal seizures is the temporal lobe of your brain.

It deals with sound, speech, smell, emotion and parts of our memory. But they can also start at the frontal lobe and other lobes of the brain.

If you have a focal seizure, you may be aware you have a seizure but can’t stop it.

If the seizure affects a bigger part of your brain, you may not realise you have a seizure because you have very limited awareness during the seizure.

I want to explain a bit more about the difference between the two types of focal seizures.


Focal aware seizures

These usually only affect one smaller area of your brain.

You may feel unusual movements, such as your arm twitching, experience a strange sensation or see colours or patterns that aren’t really there.

Also, you may feel ‘dreamy’, sick, or feel fear or anger.

You might be aware this is happening, but there is nothing you can do to stop it.

A focal aware seizure is also sometimes called an ‘aura, and it can act as a warning of a different type of seizure to come.

This brief ‘warning’ often allows you to sit down, or move to a safe place, or even alert someone else to your seizure.


Focal seizures with limited awareness

Focal seizures with limited awareness used to be known as complex partial seizures and are still often referred to as such. They usually affect a larger area of the brain.

With that type of seizure, you may experience unusual feelings and lose your sense of time.

You may appear unresponsive and ‘switched off’ from what is going around you.

You may behave in an unusual way. This could be smacking your lips, plucking at your clothes, or moving aimlessly around a room. You may not be aware of what is going on until you come out of the seizure.

If you want to find out more on the different types of seizures, check out our Seizures explained factsheet by clicking here.

You are of course also welcome to contact our freephone helpline on 0808 800 2200, if you want to talk about your seizures and the way they affect you.