Epilepsy: Complex Partial Seizures

Skip to the navigation

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.

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.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics

Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven C. Schachter, MD - Neurology

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015

Current as of: February 20, 2015