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What Is a Complex-Partial Seizure?

Learn about complex-partial seizures, or temporal lobe seizures, from Steve Wolf, MD, and Patty McGoldrick, NP, in this Howcast video.


Speaker 1: Complex partial seizures are different than generalized seizures.

With generalized seizures the electricity in the whole brain all lights up at once. In complex partial seizures, it starts in one area of the brain and it can move to another area of the brain.

Speaker 2: The EEG is what helps us make this diagnosis. We can see the seizure start in one area and then sort of move its way to other areas of the brain.

Speaker 1: In partial seizures, the big thing to remember is they're focal. They start in one area and move, but there's two different kinds of partial seizures. There's simple or there's complex. With complex partial seizures there's some impairment of consciousness. The person is not alert and talking to you during the seizure.

Speaker 2: I find simple partial seizures very interesting. It can just be a feeling or a sensation in the arm. It can be just a weakness or just a little subtle jerking in the arm. Yet they can be talking to you while it's happening and know something is funny, but they are clear and conscious. So simple means consciousness not impaired. Complex means they have some impairment. They can look drunk, zoned out, or spacey.

Speaker 1: They can be completely out of it so these can be people that are walking around mumbling, with lip smacking, weird movements of their hands. It almost looks like they're trying to do something purposeful but you realize, after watching for awhile, that they're really not accomplishing anything. They may be trying to open a container and they just keep trying and trying to open it. You realize after a few minutes that there's something wrong.

Speaker 2: What did you see at Grand Central Station?

Speaker 1: At Grand Central there was this man sort of walking around confused for a long period of time with a whole bunch of police officers following him. They must have thought that he was drunk or high or something. It became very quickly obvious that he was fumbling and confused and he was having a prolonged complex partial seizure while he walked. You can still walk, you can still look as though you're having purposeful movements, but you're really out of it.

Speaker 2: It's important to realize that because you're having complex partial seizure, you might not be on the ground jerking and twitching, like we see with generalized tonic clonic. It can go into that but it doesn't always.

Speaker 1: They can be prolonged. They can go on for a few minutes at a time.

Complex partial seizures are ones that start in one area of the brain. They may or may not spread. There is impairment of consciousness. It can look like people who are confused or trying to do something purposeful that really is not purposeful. They are just as disabling as big generalized tonic clonic seizures.

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