Simple partial seizures: Types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment

seizuresSimple partial seizures, also known as focal onset aware seizures (or “focal seizures” for short), begin in one area of the brain and the person remains alert and able to function. These seizures are brief, lasting only seconds to minutes, and are generally experienced by people with epilepsy. There are many types of treatment options available for these types of seizures including medications, dietary therapy, devices, and surgery.

What are the types of simple partial seizures?

Simple partial seizures take on different forms depending on the person. They are classified according to their symptoms, which include the following:

Autonomic seizures


Accompanied by autonomic symptoms or signs including abdominal discomfort, nausea, stomach pain, rumbling sounds of gas moving in the intestines, belching, flatulence, and vomiting. Because of these symptoms, autonomic seizures have also been referred to as abdominal epilepsy. Other symptoms may include flushing, sweating, hair standing on end, pupil dilation, changes in heart rate and respiration, and urination. A select few people may also experience sexual arousal, erections, and orgasms.

Emotional and other

Simple partial seizures that arise in or near the temporal lobes can take the form of an odd experience. For example, people experiencing these kinds of seizures may see or hear things that are not there. They may also feel emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, or joy. They may smell something foul, get a bad taste in their mouth, have a strange feeling in the pit of their stomach, or have a choking sensation.


Other seizures of this kind include convulsive movements. Jerking may begin in one area of the body, such as the fake, arm, leg, or trunk, and may spread across to other parts of the body. These seizures are sometimes referred to as Jacksonian motor seizures, and the spread is sometimes called a Jacksonian march. These seizures cannot be stopped.

Sensory seizures

This person may see lights, hear buzzing, or feel tingling or numbness in certain parts of their body. These seizures can also be referred to as Jacksonian sensory seizures.

In some children, these seizures lead to complex partial seizures (chewing, uncoordinated activity, meaningless behavior that appears random and clumsy), or tonic-clonic convulsions (losing consciousness).

What are the causes and risk factors of simple partial seizures?

The causes and triggers of simple partial seizures include stress, which is the most common. The causes differ from person to person, and many are unsure of what triggers the reaction in themselves. Documenting what happened right before the seizure is a good way to find out what your triggers are. Document what you were doing, what was happening around you, and what you felt before the seizure began. Some other triggers include the following:

  • Taking anti-seizure medication irregularly
  • Fever
  • Exhaustion
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine
  • Infections
  • Other medications (antibiotics and pain medication)
  • Alcohol
  • Flashing lights
  • Begin about to start a menstrual cycle

The real cause of seizures is often unknown, but it is important to note that certain diseases involving blood vessels of the brain can raise the risk of focal seizures in patients over the age of 65.

Also read: What are the symptoms of partial (focal onset) seizures? Types, causes, and treatment

Symptoms of simple partial seizures

Some common symptoms of simple partial seizures include the following:

  • Muscle tightening
  • Unusual head movements
  • Blank stares
  • Eyes moving from side to side
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Skin crawling (like ants crawling on the skin)
  • Hallucinations (seeing, smelling, or hearing things that are not there)
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Flushed face
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate/pulse
  • Changes in vision
  • Feeling déjà vu (feeling like current place and time have been experienced before)
  • Changes in mood or emotion
  • Unable to speak for a short while
  • Emotions suddenly changing without cause
  • Laughing or crying without reason
  • Jerking or spasms in a single part of the body
  • Smelling a strange odor
  • Distorted visions of items around you or of your own anatomy
  • Changes in how things might taste, feel, look, or sound

Diagnosis and treatment of simple partial seizures

The most effective way to diagnose epileptic seizures is an electroencephalogram (EEG). This test records electrical activity in the brain and can record unusual spikes or waves in these patterns. Different types of epilepsy can be identified by examining these patterns. Other scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can be used to look at the cause and location of the brain. These scans show scar tissue, structural problems, or tumors in the brain as well.

Treating simple partial seizures depends on the type of seizure, how often they occur, their severity, the patient’s age, their overall health, and their medical history. Anti-seizure medications can be very helpful, but it may take a few tries to get the right dose and medication. Doctors will monitor patients and watch for side effects until the best treatment is found. Surgery may be another option if medication cannot control the seizures. Lifestyle changes can also be helpful:

  • Special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (ketogenic diet)
  • Getting plenty of sleep and rest
  • Avoiding certain triggers, such as flickering lights


At the first sign of someone suffering from a seizure, you can help them find a place to sit or lie down safely. Put away anything nearby that may hurt them, especially if a larger seizure occurs. If the person is suffering from a simple partial seizure, they may be able to communicate, so ask them how you can help them or what they need.

Prognosis of simple partial seizures

Simple partial seizures are short, small, and may be undetectable, even by those close to you. However, they may be caused by epilepsy which is a warning sign that a more intense seizure is on its way. With the help of your doctor, this disease can be treated and managed if you develop and follow a treatment plan that works for you.

Related: What causes nocturnal seizures? Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for nocturnal epilepsy


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