Complex partial seizures (used to be called psychomotor seizures) may also be called focal seizures. They are called "complex" because they impair consciousness and "partial" because they begin in a limited area of the brain. Most complex partial seizures have some type of automatic behaviors, called automatisms, during it.

The chance of seriously hurting yourself during a complex partial seizure is small. Single and brief complex partial seizures do not damage the brain. Prolonged or repetitive complex partial seizures may cause slight but lasting memory loss. More serious brain injury is rare.

What to do:

  • Speak quietly and in a reassuring manner. Some people may be able to hear during a seizure.
  • Do not yell at the person, or restrain him or her unless absolutely necessary to keep the person safe. They may be confused and react differently to emotional or physical stimulation.
  • Keep the person safe. For example:
    • Keep them away from hot objects, surfaces or fire.
    • Keep them away from dangerous situations, equipment or places.
    • Keep them from wandering or running in dangerous places.
  • Other behaviors during complex partial seizures may cause worry, but are usually not dangerous. These include screaming, kicking, ripping up papers, disrobing, sexual-like movements, and, rarely, masturbation. Stay next to the person when these occur and prevent injury.
  • If someone is known to have unusual automatisms, he or she should be guided in a quiet and reassuring manner to a more private place if possible.
  • Work with your health care provider about specific ways to lessen embarrassing effects of a partial seizure.
  • The greatest danger of an unexpected seizure occurs when the person is driving a car or operating dangerous equipment.
    • People with seizures that impair consciousness or control of movement should avoid these activities as directed by their physician or state driving laws. In some cases, potentially dangerous equipment can be used safely if adequate precautions are taken.

What else can be done?

  • If the person has a vagus nerve stimular, use the magnet to help stop the event.
  • Follow the person’s Seizure Response Plan on what to do and when to give rescue medications for clusters or repeated seizures. (link to managing my seizures, prn meds)
  • Seek medical help according to the person’s Seizure Plan. If this information isn’t available, get emergency help if:
    • If the seizure is prolonged (more than 5 to 10 minutes of impaired consciousness with automatisms),
    • If there are two or more complex partial seizures without return of consciousness between seizures.
    • If the person is injured.
    • If the seizure occurred in water.
    • If the person doesn’t return to their usual state.

 

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN | Joseph I. Sirven, MD on 7/2013
Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 3/2014
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