October 26, 2022

Focal impaired awareness seizures – your quick overview

About Epilepsy

Focal impaired awareness seizures are a very common kind of seizure. Find out more about them, why they happen and how they’re treated in our blog.

Has your doctor spoken to you about focal impaired awareness seizures? If they mentioned this term during an appointment, you might be looking for more information about what it means. 

In this blog, you’ll learn what this kind of epileptic seizure looks like, what causes it, and how it is treated.

A man looking confused – a symptom of focal impaired awareness seizures

What is a focal impaired awareness seizure?

An epileptic seizure happens when the electric signals that are constantly being sent around your brain get ‘scrambled’. Depending on the kind of epilepsy you have, it can cause different kinds of symptoms. 

Focal impaired awareness seizures are one of the most common types of epileptic seizure (they used to be known as ‘complex partial seizures’). The name ‘focal impaired awareness seizure’ describes some of the seizure’s key characteristics:

  • Focal: The seizure begins (and usually remains) in one specific place in the brain.
  • Impaired awareness: You are not aware of what is happening around you during the seizure.

Focal impaired awareness seizures can happen to anyone, and may be caused by things like head injuries and brain tumors. That said, we often don't know why people start having them.

Newly diagnosed? Read our introductory blog to learn about epilepsy

Focal impaired awareness seizure symptoms

The symptoms of a focal impaired awareness seizure depend on which part of the brain the seizure begins in.

For example, if the seizure starts in the temporal lobe (on the side of the brain), symptoms might include lip smacking. If the seizures start in the frontal lobe, they may make you shout out or run around.

Some of the more common symptoms of a focal impaired awareness seizure include:

  • The seizures normally last between 30 seconds and three minutes
  • You will feel tired and confused for around 15 minutes after the seizure (if not longer)
  • You may stare into the distance and look like you are ‘daydreaming
  • You won’t have any memory of the seizure and may forget what you were doing just before
  • Many people move their mouths in repetitive ways, pick at their clothing, do bicycling with their legs and other repetitive movements called ‘automatisms’
  • Seizures can also make people do potentially risky things, such as running around uncontrollably, or acting aggressively

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Diagnosing focal impaired awareness seizures

If your doctor suspects that you (or someone you care for) are having focal impaired awareness seizures, they will do a variety of tests to figure out what is happening. Diagnosis often includes:

  • Taking a medical history. 
  • Getting a description of your seizures from someone who has seen them. If you have any video of the seizures, this can be really helpful.
  • Using an EEG machine, where sensors are placed on your scalp. The sensors can pick up electrical activity in your brain, and identify where seizures begin.
  • Using a CT scan or an MRI which can create an image of your brain to find out if there are any specific causes of your seizures.

Focal impaired awareness seizure treatment

If your doctor has diagnosed you with focal impaired awareness seizures, they will usually begin treatment by giving you anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). These help around two-thirds of people to gain control of their seizures.

If medication does not work for you, there are several alternative focal impaired awareness seizure treatments, including special kinds of diet, surgery, and devices that can be implanted in your body to help regulate brain activity.

Because this kind of epilepsy makes you lose consciousness, it’s really important to have a seizure action plan so you’re prepared and can avoid any dangerous situations.

If you have any uncertainty about what your doctor has told you about your seizures, don't be afraid to ask questions to get more information - this can help you get on top of your epilepsy and manage seizures in the right way for you. You can also read our blog to learn more about epilepsy, treatments, and living with this condition.