Watch Video | Print | Close

Partial Seizures

Dr. Elizabeth Thiele

Elizabeth Thiele, MD, PhD
Epileptologist, MGH

This is a transcript of a video from the Growing Up with Epilepsy Web site. For more information visit

Dr. Elizabeth Thiele: A partial seizure is a seizure that starts in a very small region, a very certain area of the brain. So we think it can be a very small number of neurons get abnormally excited and then cause the seizure activity by repetitive discharges. We believe that partial seizures can start from any area of the brain, and what the seizure looks like depends on where the seizure starts. So, for instance, if I had a partial seizure from the area of my brain that controls my vision, then my partial seizure might be visual alterations in what I see. Things might become distorted. I might see things change shape or size or color. But that would be a partial seizure coming from that area of the brain. If the seizure started in the area of my right side of my brain that controlled the function of my left hand, my seizure might look like this (making hand gesture), and my hand might be jerking and I would not be able to stop it, but my consciousness would be preserved. I'd be able to continue talking. I'd be able to realize that my hand was jerking and that I couldn't stop it, and that is a partial seizure. A partial complex seizure is a seizure that starts in the same manner, so in a very small area of the brain, but then spreads so that consciousness is impaired. So, again, if my hand was jerking with abnormal electrical activity up in the area of my brain on the right that controlled my hand, but then that spread, then I might stop from ta... (vocalizing indistinctly) either start talking gibberish, start talking and gaze off, or have some other change in my behavior that people around me would realize that I wasn't quite right and that I had had a change in my level of consciousness, and that is a partial complex seizureaeso, a partial seizure with alteration of consciousness.