What is a partial onset seizure?

A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in your brain. During a seizure, you may experience a variety of symptoms. Some common symptoms include:

  • losing consciousness
  • losing awareness
  • experiencing uncontrollable muscle movements
  • experiencing sensory perception changes

The symptoms you experience during a seizure will depend on the cause of your seizure and where it’s occurred in your brain. A partial onset seizure affects only a part of your brain. And there are two types: a simple partial seizure and a complex partial seizure.

If you experience more than one seizure, your doctor may diagnose you with epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes chronic seizures.

Simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures involve different symptoms.

A simple partial seizure won’t cause you to lose consciousness. Instead, you’re more likely to experience a change in emotions or feelings. Sometimes, the way you see, smell, or hear things will also change. A simple partial seizure may also be referred to as a focal seizure without loss of consciousness.

A complex partial seizure will cause you to lose awareness and consciousness. During this type of seizure, you might also make nonpurposeful movements. For example, you might smack your lips, rub your hands, or swallow. A complex partial seizure may also be referred to as a focal dyscognitive seizure.

A variety of behaviors, lifestyle factors, and underlying medical conditions can trigger a seizure. In some cases, identifying the trigger can help you prevent future seizures. If you can identify the cause, your doctor may be able to recommend targeted treatments. Some triggers are easily controlled. Some are less so.

If you experience a seizure, make an appointment with your doctor. Take notes about each seizure that you have. Your doctor needs to know how often your seizures occur, what you did immediately before each seizure, and what you experienced during each seizure. This can help them develop a diagnosis, determine your triggers, and decide what types of treatment are best for you.

In some cases, your doctor may not be able to identify the cause of your seizure. Seizures without a cause are called idiopathic seizures. Most cases of idiopathic seizures occur in children and young adults.

In some cases, seizures are triggered by lifestyle habits or behaviors. For example, they may be linked to:

  • Alcohol: Beer, wine, and alcoholic spirits affect how your brain works. Drinking alcohol, especially in large quantities, can interrupt normal electrical activity in your brain and cause a seizure.
  • Caffeine: This stimulant is found in a variety of foods and beverages, such as soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate. It can alter your brain’s electrical signals and cause a seizure.
  • Nicotine: This addictive chemical, found in tobacco, can also increase your risk of seizures. You can reduce your risk by cutting back on how much you smoke or, better yet, quitting.
  • Drugs: Using and abusing recreational drugs can also cause a seizure. In addition, certain prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs may increase the risk of seizures. In some cases, drug withdrawal can also cause a seizure.
  • Sleep: Lack of sleep can stress your brain and increase your risk of seizures. Try to get enough sleep every night.
  • Stress: High levels of stress tax your body and can increase your risk of seizures. Take steps to reduce stress in your life.
  • Environment: Certain visual stimuli may also trigger a seizure. For instance, a seizure may occur while watching television or playing a video game. However, flashing lights are more likely to provoke generalized tonic-clonic seizures than partial seizures.

If you consume alcohol or caffeine, do so in moderation. Avoid tobacco and other recreational drugs. Try to get enough sleep at night, manage your stress levels, and follow a healthy lifestyle. If you’re diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help keep your symptoms under control.

Seizures can also result from a variety of health conditions, such as:

  • Severe head trauma: Injury to your brain, head, or neck can cause seizures. They may develop immediately after your injury, or days, weeks, or even years later.
  • Prenatal brain damage: Injuries to your head sustained before you were born or during birth may also cause seizures. Other prenatal factors, such as oxygen deficiencies and improper nutrition, can also affect your risk of seizures.
  • Brain tumor: In rare cases, a brain tumor is identified as the cause of seizures and epilepsy.
  • Developmental conditions: Certain disorders, including autism, are associated with higher rates of seizures and epilepsy.
  • Progressive brain disease: Dementia can increase your risk of seizures.
  • Vascular diseases: Very high blood pressure and strokes can trigger seizures. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle and your doctor’s recommended treatment plan for cardiovascular disease can help you lower your risk.
  • Low blood sugar levels: A drop in your blood sugar levels can trigger a seizure. If you have diabetes or other blood sugar-related problems, follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan to regulate your blood sugar levels.
  • Infections: Infectious diseases, such as meningitis, viral encephalitis, and AIDS, can cause epilepsy and seizures. A high fever can also lead to a seizure.
  • Drug withdrawal: Withdrawal from certain medications, such as sleeping pills and painkillers, can cause a seizure.

If you suspect you’ve developed or have any of these health conditions, make an appointment with your doctor. Treating the underlying condition may help lower your risk of experiencing seizures. Depending on your diagnosis, your treatment plan may include lifestyle changes, medications, surgery, or other interventions.

Genetics can also affect your risk of developing epilepsy and experiencing seizures. If one of your immediate family members has epilepsy, you’re more likely to develop it. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.

In some cases, you may experience an “aura” or warning symptoms before you have a seizure. For example, you might experience:

  • anxiety
  • fear
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • visual changes, such as flashing lights, wavy lines, or spots in your field of vision

If you have a history of seizures or have been diagnosed with epilepsy and you notice these symptoms, be sure to alert someone. They can monitor you for a seizure and get help if needed.

Finding the cause of your seizures can take some time. Your doctor can use medical tests to check for some underlying health conditions. But those tests may not be enough to identify your triggers.

With the help of a friend or loved one, keep a written record of your seizures and share it with your doctor. This can help them diagnose your condition and develop a treatment plan.