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Epilepsy: Complex Partial Seizures - Topic Overview

Complex partial seizures occur in children and adults with certain forms of epilepsy. They are the most common type of seizure in adults.

  • An aura may occur at the beginning of a seizure. It may consist of a strange smell, taste, sound, or visual disturbance, an unexplained feeling of fear or anxiety, or a sense that everything seems strangely familiar, like it has all happened before (déjà vu), or strangely unfamiliar (jamais vu).
  • The seizure changes the person's level of consciousness. The person may appear awake but cannot respond to anything or anyone around him or her. The person usually stares into space.
  • The seizure may include involuntary movements called automatisms, such as lip-smacking, chewing, hand wringing, picking, and swallowing.
  • The seizure lasts 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Most people who have complex partial seizures do not remember having them. After a seizure, the person will be confused or disoriented and may have a hard time speaking and swallowing for several minutes.

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Complex partial seizures are often confused with absence seizures, a type of generalized seizure. Absence seizures, though, never begin with an aura and last only 5 to 15 seconds. Also, a person is fully alert after an absence seizure and may continue with whatever he or she was doing before the seizure as though nothing has happened.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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