Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where the normal electrical activity in the brain is disturbed. Epilepsy causes seizures. A seizure can cause a variety of symptoms and signs, including loss of consciousness, abnormal behavior, temporary confusion, and uncontrollable jerking movements.

According to the Mayo Clinic, one in 100 Americans may experience an unprovoked seizure in their lifetime. These seizures are not necessarily a sign of epilepsy. Two or more seizures, however, may be a sign of a bigger problem. Doctors often diagnose epilepsy in patients who have had two or more unprovoked seizures.

When abnormal activity affects the whole brain and causes an epileptic seizure, it is called a generalized seizure. If the abnormal activity is confined to just one area of the brain, it’s known as a partial seizure. Two categories of partial seizures exist: simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures.

Simple Partial Seizures

A simple partial seizure typically lasts no longer than one minute. People who experience this type of seizure do not lose consciousness. Their seizure symptoms affect how they experience the world and how their body works. For example, simple focal seizures may affect how you see, taste, hear, or smell.

Simple focal seizures may also affect your body, causing involuntary jerking in the arms or legs. People experiencing a simple focal seizure may also feel tingling in their body, experience unexplainable dizziness, or see flashing lights.

Doctors classify simple partial seizures into one of four types. The type depends on the parts of the brain and body that the seizure affects:

  • autonomic: This type of seizure involves the part of the brain that is responsible for involuntary functions, including heartbeat, digestions, and blinking.
  • motor: This type of seizure causes uncontrolled muscle activity, such as a jerking movement in the arm, face, legs, or feet.
  • psychic: This type of seizure affects the part of the brain that controls emotions, feelings, and memories.
  • sensory: This type of seizure affects your senses, including hearing, smelling, and seeing.

Complex Partial Seizures

Complex partial seizures (sometimes called dyscognitive focal seizures) affect a person’s cognitive abilities. People who experience this type of seizure may lose consciousness and awareness for a brief period of time. You may appear awake and alert to other people, but your brain is not truly aware of what is happening.


People experiencing this type of seizure often have a staring spell. According to the Mayo Clinic, they may also perform purposeless movements, such as rubbing their hands, chewing, or walking in circles during the seizure.

When A Larger Seizure May Follow

According to the National Institutes of Health, a simple partial seizure can potentially turn into a generalized seizure. Take precautions to protect yourself from injury in the event that you lose consciousness. Alert a colleague, friend, or family member if you think you may have a seizure coming on. That way they can monitor you should one occur.

Factors That Increase Epilepsy Risk

Factors that can increase your risk for epilepsy include:

  • age: The onset of epilepsy typically occurs during childhood or after age 60. However, it can develop at any age.
  • head injuries: Damage to your brain during an accident increases your risk.
  • vascular diseases: Diseases that affect the blood vessels in your brain, such as stroke, can cause epilepsy.
  • age-related brain disease: Dementia increases a person’s risk for epilepsy.
  • brain infections: Infections that affect the brain or spinal cord, such as meningitis, can increase your risk for epilepsy.

What Causes Epilepsy

In almost half of epilepsy cases, no cause can be determined. In the other half, the disorder can be traced to one or more of several factors. These include:

  • genes: Inherited genetic predisposition may cause epilepsy.
  • head trauma: An injury to the brain may cause epileptic seizures.
  • brain conditions. Conditions that damage the brain, such as a tumor, can cause epilepsy.
  • developmental disorders: Autism and other developmental disorders may cause epilepsy.
  • infectious diseases: AIDS, meningitis, and viral encephalitis are three types of infectious diseases that may contribute to epilepsy.
  • prenatal injury: Damage to a baby’s brain may cause seizures later in life.

Idiopathic Partial Epilepsy

It’s not always possible to determine why a person experiences seizures. In some cases, neither a cause nor a contributing factor can be identified. Partial seizures with an unknown cause are called idiopathic partial seizures. According to New York University Langone Medical Center, researchers assume a person’s genetic makeup causes most cases of idiopathic partial epilepsy.

How Partial Onset Epileptic Seizures Are Treated

Unfortunately, a partial onset seizure cannot be treated or stopped once it begins. The seizure will come to an end. Most seizures last only a few seconds. The only way to prevent seizures is to identify and treat the underlying cause, if one can be identified. With treatment, people with epilepsy and seizures can live normal, healthy lives.

When It’s Time to See a Doctor

The person experiencing the seizure may not recognize their symptoms, especially if loss of awareness occurs. Loved ones may be the first to detect the problem. If you believe you or a loved one have a seizure problem, make an appointment to see your doctor. Before you go, keep a journal of all your experiences. Having a history of your symptoms and health history can help your doctor determine if you have epilepsy or some other condition.