What are simple partial seizures?

On one side of the brain, a simple partial seizure occurs. People who suffer a simple partial seizure usually do not lose consciousness or memory.

Simple partial seizures are a form of seizure where it primarily affects one side of the brain. Often the activity of the seizure will remain on this side while other times the activity of a seizure will spread and become partial complex or generalized in type.

Doctors can also label simple partial seizures “focal aware seizures” or “simple focal seizures.”

If a person has frequent simple partial seizures, a doctor can diagnose them with epilepsy, which is seizures that persist. An approximate 2-12 percent of all epileptic children experience simple partial seizures.

Causes

3d image of a human brain
There may be many potential causes for simple partial seizures, including traumatic brain injuries and diabetes.

A seizure occurs when a person encounters a disruption in the regular function of his / her brain. The brain communicates via electrical “signals,” so a person may have a seizure when those signals are disrupted.

Simple partial seizures occur in individuals with an electrical abnormality in a particular part of their brain and are susceptible to such impaired signals.

Doctors don’t know what causes certain forms of common partial seizure disorders but think genetic factors may be present.

Simple partial seizures causes include traumatic brain injury, which can create a brain scar that can disrupt regular electrical brain signals and trigger seizures. Brain irritation from surgery, stroke, or tumor can also interfere with electrical brain activity and can cause simple partial seizures.

Diabetes sufferers may experience a form of continuous simple partial seizures called epilepsy partialis continua (EPC). Addressing and correcting very high blood sugar levels can help to cure this rare condition. Any other brain structural abnormality can cause EPC, too.

Types

Other types of seizures include complex partial seizures which cause a person to lose consciousness. This is because the abnormal electrical activity affects both sides of the brain and regions of consciousness which are essential.

Another type is a generalized seizure, occurring when the entire brain of a person is affected. People with a widespread seizure are losing consciousness. Symptoms include tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures where the arms and legs are jerking, or small mal spells where nobody around them reacts to directives.

Symptoms

Memory lost in lady
A person suffering a simple partial seizure may not always be aware of something being wrong, although it may be a sign that a generalized seizure may follow.

Doctors often classify simple partial seizures into four types based on the area of the brain they affect. The location of the seizure usually determines the symptoms experienced as well.

Motor and sensory simple partial seizures may not change awareness or consciousness. However, some partial seizures can be simple or complex and be associated with autonomic or psychic problems.

Here are more details on these four simple partial seizure categories are listed below:

  • Motor: A motor seizure causes a person to lose control over muscle activity, usually in their arm, face, foot, or another part of their body. Due to the way motor nerves cross the brain, if a person loses control over the right side of their brain, it will cause problems on the left side of their body and vice-versa.
  • Sensory: Sensory seizures will cause changes to a person’s hearing, vision, or sense of smell. This can cause hallucinations and difficulty hearing. Also, as in motor seizures, a seizure focus on the right side of the brain can cause numbness or tingling on the left side of the body.
  • Autonomic: Autonomic seizures affect parts of the brain that deal with the functions of the body a person does not control with their thinking. Symptoms could include changes in heart rhythm, blood pressure, and bowel function.
  • Psychic: A psychic seizure causes a person to experience sudden emotional changes, such as feelings of fear, anxiety, or even déjà vu.

Some general symptoms of simple partial seizures that may occur in a given person alone or in combination, without loss of consciousness include:

  • being inattentive but still able to follow commands
  • changes in vision (often one side or the other)
  • difficulty speaking or not speaking for some time
  • feeling as if the skin is crawling (often affecting one side or the other)
  • numbness or tingling on one side of the body (whether the whole side or just part)
  • sweating or feeling anxious
  • decreased movement on one side of the body (whether the whole side or just part)
  • unusual eye movements, such as the eyes moving side to side quickly or gaze fixated in one direction

A simple partial seizure is, in some cases, a warning seizure that may mean another seizure is about to take place. They may be a sign of a generalized seizure that affects the whole brain and causes a loss of consciousness for the individual.

The majority of seizures last for more than 1 to 2 minutes. However, after a seizure has occurred a person can continue to feel confused or have trouble thinking clearly.

If a seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, it’s considered a medical emergency by physicians.

Treatment

Typically doctors recommend anti-convulsants as the first line of treatment when a person has suffered multiple seizures.

However, other treatment options include:

  • treating high blood sugars to decrease focal seizures due to diabetes
  • treating brain swelling caused by a tumor, for example, can reduce the size of a brain region that can trigger a seizure
  • treating the cause of a brain infection, such as herpes encephalitis, can also reduce the risk of a person having a seizure

Seizure drugs or these other treatments can, however, be ineffective in stopping seizures.

Other treatments include:

Diet

A modified diet known as a ketogenic diet is one alternative for treating certain types of simple partial seizures in children. For children who have not responded to other seizure treatments, many doctors suggest ketogenic diet. This diet is a extremely restrictive high-fat, low-carb diet which can be difficult for kids to adopt at times. A ketogenic diet necessitates observation by a dietitian.

Surgery

Some people may need surgery to stop the seizures. Surgery involves the removal of a brain area which causes a person to have seizures. Can involve scar tissue, tumour, or other anomalies. Surgery is usually used as a last resort. It should be performed on people who have not responded to drugs, and others who are easily accessible to the cause of the seizures.

Vagus nerve stimulator

A system called a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) may help people who are not candidates for surgery but who do not respond well to their anti-seizure medications.

A VNS is a small device mounted in the chest under the skin, and connected to the neck of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs up to the brain, and the electrical signals generated from the VNS change the brain’s electrical activity causing seizures.

Medications

A number of medications are available which aim to reduce the frequency of seizures. Each of the medications works differently, so a doctor will often prescribe more than one type of anti-convulsant medication.

Medication options include:

  • carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
  • phenytoin (Dilantin)
  • valproate (Depakote)

When a person is taking anticonvulsant medicine, they should not stop taking it suddenly.

The body has to produce a sufficient amount of anticonvulsant drugs to avoid a seizure. Immediately stopping taking the drug can cause a seizure quickly.

When to see a doctor

An EEG may be used to monitor brain waves for simple seizures.
An EEG may be used to monitor brain waves for simple seizures.

If a person has any signs that may be a simple partial seizure they should seek urgent medical attention.

Often one can misinterpret the symptoms of a simple partial seizure. For example, the signs of simple partial seizure in a child may be misunderstood by a teacher or other school official as laziness in class or failure to pay attention.

A doctor will also diagnose epilepsy taking into account the symptoms of a individual. They’ll ask friends and family about the symptoms they’ve been having.

The health care provider can order tests to rule out other causes. That may require blood testing, liver testing, or thyroid testing.

The doctor might also order a test called an electroencephalogram, or EEG. This study tests and the processing of brain waves. If a person has a seizure when being controlled by an EEG, the doctor may collect more details about the type of seizure.

Doctors can also order image scans such as a CAT scan or an MRI to identify places where seizures may occur.

It is important to remember that all tests, including the doctor’s neurological exam, may be regular, but the patient may still have a seizure disorder or an epilepsy.

Outlook

A critical first step in a person’s diagnosis thought to have had one or more common partial seizures is to decide whether a person has a brain abnormality. This abnormality may be an problem in the brain structure, such as a tumor, or it may be that a particular brain area is electrically abnormal and causes simple partial seizures.

Children with simple partial seizures will sometimes “outgrow” seizures and not experience them as adults.

Others may need to take anti-seizure medications their whole lives.

Simple partial seizures may be managed in a number of ways, such as treating an underlying disorder or administering a particular drug. Simple partial seizures often can signify the start of a more severe (generalized) seizure disorder.

Anyone having any signs of a possible simple partial seizure will have a definitive diagnosis and treatment with their doctor.

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