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Complex partial (focal) seizures

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Complex partial seizures are the most common type of seizure in adults. They are sometimes called complex focal seizures because they start in one part of your brain (a focus) and then spread to a larger area.

These seizures affect more of your brain than simple partial seizures, so they cause more symptoms. They also affect your consciousness. Most people aren't alert or able to talk during this type of seizure. Afterwards, they may not remember anything about it.

Complex partial seizures can affect any area of your brain, but they often take place in the temporal lobes. You have two temporal lobes, one in each half of your brain. (To learn more, see The parts of your brain and what they do.) The temporal lobes are your brain's smell, speech and hearing centre. They are also linked to other parts of your brain, and help control emotions, memory and behaviour. Changes in the temporal lobes affect the way people feel and what they remember.

Here's how a complex partial seizure usually looks and feels. Most people get the same symptoms each time. [1] [7] [10] [11]

  • A strange feeling. Many people get a warning sign (doctors call this an aura) before the seizure starts. This might be a rising feeling in their stomach, or a strange smell, taste or sound. People may also get an odd sensation or feeling (such as fear), or déjà vu (a sense that what's going on has happened before). Some people say their body feels tingly. A person's aura may be the same every time.

  • Lack of awareness. Most people will be awake but not fully alert or able to communicate normally. Seizures often begin with a blank stare. A person may suddenly stop what he or she is doing and look frozen and unresponsive. Some people may black out totally.

  • Changes in behaviour. A person's behaviour and emotions may change. Many people make repetitive movements, such as chewing, making faces, or smacking their lips (doctors call these automatisms). Others start wandering around or running, or act as though they're afraid or angry. Some people strike out or throw things. And most also ramble or mumble odd words that don't make sense. Some people say they feel uncomfortable and undress or change their clothes.

  • Movement. Parts of a person's body, often an arm, may become stiff and shaky.

These seizures may last a few minutes. People often feel dazed and confused afterwards, and they have problems talking for several minutes. Complex partial seizures affect the part of the brain that helps control memory, so most people don't remember anything about their seizure.


For references related to Epilepsy click here.
Last Updated: June 20, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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