What is Focal Epilepsy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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Focal epilepsy is a seizure disorder where seizures are preceded by a localized abnormality in brain function. The localized interruption can cause mild seizure symptoms before spreading across a larger area of the brain, causing a seizure. This is a form of partial epilepsy, meaning the entire brain is not involved in the development of seizures, and it can appear at any age. Most cases are idiopathic, with no known cause.

In a person with focal epilepsy, electrical signals get scrambled in a small area of the brain and cause symptoms like twitching, minor impairments in cognitive function, and strange sensory experiences. The abnormal electrical signals can spread, causing a complex or simple seizure. In complex seizures, the patient's consciousness is disrupted, while in simple seizures, the patient remains conscious throughout the seizure.

The severity of focal epilepsy can vary, depending on a number of factors. It may be linked with other conditions that can increase the severity of seizures, and may be more or less controllable with medication, depending on the specifics of a patient's case. Thorough neurological evaluation, including studies of the patient's brain while seizure activity is occurring, if possible, is used to learn more about the patient's condition and to develop an appropriate treatment plan. For some patients, medications and lifestyle changes may address the epilepsy.


Commonly, focal epilepsy onsets for no known reason. A patient simply starts to experience seizures. In other cases, it can be triggered by a brain injury, a tumor, or a neurological disease. Seizures can onset much later than the initial cause and are sometimes a diagnostic sign in a patient with an unknown medical condition. For people with a history of brain injuries, it is important to note this history when being evaluated for seizures, as it is possible the old brain injury is linked to the seizures.

People with focal epilepsy may need to take certain steps to reduce the incidence of seizures, such as avoiding known seizure triggers. It can take some trial and error to develop an effective treatment plan for epilepsy. During this period, people may find it helpful to alert the people they interact with to the fact that they are in treatment for a seizure disorder, and to provide information about what to do if a seizure occurs. People sometimes provide well-meaning but dangerous assistance to people during seizures, and teaching people how to handle a seizure will reduce the risk of injuries caused by bystanders.


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Post 3

@NathanG - Some people claim that some immunizations trigger the onset of childhood epilepsy.

I don’t know if much of this is folklore or truth, but I do know that some people have claimed that this has happened with their children.

These seizures were temporary so I don’t think that much long term damage was done. I think in this case it’s simply a case of benign epilepsy.

Post 2

@SkyWhisperer - I’ve heard that certain diets can help people with epilepsy. The most famous of these is the ketonic diet. This is a diet that focuses on heavy consumption of fats.

Normally this would not be good dietary advice, but fats supposedly help stabilize blood sugar and control seizure conditions. Personally, I think you would need to undergo this diet under the treatment of a nutritionist.

There are good fats and bad fats and you want to make sure that you stay on the good fats, otherwise you will create a worse health situation.

Post 1

A friend of mine has epilepsy as a result of a brain injury he received as a child. It was a car accident that he survived but he experienced trauma to part of his brain.

As a result they put him on seizure medication as part of his epilepsy treatment. He said that he does fine on the medication but that he must avoid certain triggers as well.

Flashing lights, especially with video games or even in movies, can trigger seizures to the brain. I think this is because the flash of the lights somehow synchronizes with the electrical activity in the brain and this sets off the seizures.

I think that’s unfortunate because that means he must avoid certain activities to avoid the onset of the seizures. For movies, he just avoids going to the theaters. If he rents them out on DVD and watches them at home he can withstand the special effects better.

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