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.