Signs and Symptoms of a Focal Seizure

Written by julie scott
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Signs and Symptoms of a Focal Seizure
(gehirn image by andreas from

There are many different effects that occur as a result of focal seizures. Other names for these seizures include partial seizure and Jacksonian seizure. Medical professionals differentiate the seizures by signs that best manifest the symptoms. Motor, sensory, autonomic and psychic seizures are the four common forms of focal seizures. These seizures originate in a small area of the cerebral cortex. Depending on the location within the temporal lobe, neurological signs will arise in an area of the body that identifies with the affected part of the brain.

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Autonomic Seizure

The autonomic (involuntary) nervous system is the control centre for bodily functions. It is easy to confuse a focal autonomic seizure with conditions such as a heart attack, the common flu, an anxiety attack or migraine headache. Signs that an autonomic seizure is in progress include strange stomach sensations, odd feelings in the chest or head, and changes in pulse, breathing or heart rate. The sweating or appearance of goose bumps can be misinterpreted as fever and chills associated with the common flu.

Motor Seizure

A focal motor seizure affects normal activity of the muscular system. The patient (or an observer) may notice some twitching or jerking movements. This seizure can cause significant stiffening of the body. It can also be the reason for weakness, slurred speech or uncontrollable emotional reactions, such as laughing or crying. Generally, one side of the body is affected--the opposite side from the focal point in the cerebral cortex of the brain. Focal motor seizures tend to be subtle, but on occasion could spread to both sides of a patient's body.

Psychic Seizure

A focal psychic seizure is a change in thoughts, feelings or the person's perception of surroundings. The common problems resulting from psychic seizures include the absence of outward stimulation for happiness or depression, garbled speech, altered memory and various forms of anxiety. Seizures are the result of enhanced electrical action in the brain. There have been witnesses to psychic events where the event ends with the patient shaking with seizures. These events are not related to focal psychic seizures. Patients with psychic seizures often relay events such as bright lights signalling the onset of an out-of-body experience.

Sensory Seizure

Focal sensory seizures cause one or more of the five senses to change. The focal seizure may cause a perception of strange smells or a taste of something that is not there. Another sensation involves hearing low-key or booming sounds. The pins and needles effect is another experience common to a focal sensory seizure. Some patients confirm feelings of floating or spinning in space, hallucinations and illusions (image distortion). While they experience various symptoms of any seizure episode, patients do not lose awareness of events occurring around them. Therefore, these patient reports are dependable accounts although they remain obscure to others who see only the outward sign of a prolonged stare.

Identification and Treatment

A seizure is commonly associated with epilepsy although anyone can have a seizure for various other reasons. Survival of a head/brain injury, stroke, brain tumour or high fever due to infection can trigger focal seizures. Often, when epilepsy is not the diagnosis, the cause of a focal seizure remains unknown. However, if all indications point to focal seizure, conclusive diagnosis will depend on the frequency of occurrence and the exclusion of other illnesses, such as epilepsy, with similar symptoms. Once identified, there are seizure medicines to control these events.

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