Focal Onset Aware Seizures (Simple Partial Seizures)

A focal onset seizure begins in one side of the brain. They were previously called partial seizures. Focal onset seizures are the most common type of seizure experienced by people with epilepsy. For short, the term focal seizure can be used.

When the seizure begins in one side of the brain and the person has no loss of awareness of their surroundings during it, it is called a focal onset aware seizure. This type of seizure was previously called a simple partial seizure.

Learn about seizures with loss of awareness, called focal impaired awareness seizures (previously complex partial seizures) here.

When people have focal aware seizures, they are fully awake, alert, and able to recall events during the seizure. Some are "frozen" during the seizure, so they may or may not be able to respond to others during the seizures. Overall, these seizures are brief, usually lasting less than 2 minutes.

Yes, some symptoms of focal onset aware (simple partial) seizures are similar to other health conditions.

  • Health symptoms or problems, such as nausea or pain from stomach disorders or tingling and numbness from a pinched nerve, can be mistaken for focal seizures.
  • Hallucinations (smells, tastes, sounds, visions) can accompany psychiatric illness or the use of certain drugs.
  • Some symptoms (such as déja vu) are experienced by almost everyone at some time.
  • Temporary numbness or weakness in a limb or the face sometimes occures from a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which can be a serious warning sign for a future stroke.
  • Migraines, with or without a significant headache, can produce visual, tingling, or other symptoms that can be confused with a seizure.

Your health care provider can help determine whether your symptoms may be focal aware (simple partial) seizures or some other condition. Your provider will consider

  • How often the symptoms occur?
  • Are they stereotyped (similiar event-to-event)?
  • What other symptoms happen?
  • Do you have other seizure types?

Learn more about diagnosing focal aware seizures.

When a focal onset aware seizure ends, the person usually continues doing whatever they were doing before it started. This type of seizure can be a warning or aura before a stronger seizure with loss of consciousness. Care and comfort first aid is all that is needed when a person has a focal onset aware seizure.

It depends. Some people may have just one seizure and others may have several.

You may not be able to tell because the person is fully alert and able to interact. The person may need to tell you what is happening.

Several treatment options are available that can help prevent further focal onset aware seizures from occurring, including

If your seizures are not controlled, consider asking for a consult from neurologist that specializes in epilepsy (called an epileptologist). An evaluation at a comprehensive epilepsy center can help you evaluate all treatment options.

Authored By:

Elaine Kiriakopoulos MD, MSc

Reviewed By:

Robert Fisher MD, PhD

Resources

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