2017 Revised Classification of Seizures

The International League against Epilepsy (ILAE) is the world's main scientific body devoted to the study of epilepsy, and it has recently revised its classification of seizures. The changes will help make diagnosing and classifying seizures more accurate and easier. In this article, you'll find the new general outline and basic seizure classification. In the coming weeks, epilepsy.com will be updated to reflect the new classification to help users searching for both the older and newer terms.

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  • Simple partial seizures can be motor seizures that cause change in muscle activity.
  • These seizures can be sensory seizures that cause changes in any one of the senses.
  • These seizures can be autonomic seizures that cause changes in the part of the nervous system that automatically controls bodily functions.
  • These seizures can be psychic seizures that change how people think, feel, or experience things.

What is a simple partial seizure?

Simple partial seizures are usually divided into categories depending on the type of symptoms the person experiences:

Motor seizures:

  • These cause a change in muscle activity. For example, a person may have abnormal movements such as jerking of a finger or stiffening of part of the body.
  • The movements may spread, either staying on one side of the body or extending to both sides. Other examples are weakness, which can even affect speech, and coordinated actions such as laughter or automatic hand movements. 

Sensory seizures:

  • These cause changes in any one of the senses.
  • People with sensory seizures may smell or taste things that aren't there; hear clicking, ringing, or a person's voice when there is no actual sound; or feel a sensation of "pins and needles" or numbness.
  • Seizures may even be painful for some patients. They may feel as if they are floating or spinning in space.
  • They may have visual hallucinations, seeing things that aren't there (a spot of light, a scene with people). They also may experience illusions—distortions of true sensations. For instance, they may believe that a parked car is moving farther away, or that a person's voice is muffled when it's actually clear.

Autonomic seizures:

  • These cause changes in the part of the nervous system that automatically controls bodily functions.
  • These common seizures may include strange or unpleasant sensations in the stomach, chest, or head; changes in the heart rate or breathing; sweating; or goose bumps.

Psychic seizures:

  • These seizures change how people think, feel, or experience things.
  • They may have problems with memory, garbled speech, an inability to find the right word, or trouble understanding spoken or written language.
  • They may suddenly feel emotions like fear, depression, or happiness with no outside reason.
  • Some may feel as though they are outside their body or may have feelings of déja vu ("I've been through this before") or jamais vu ("This is new to me"— even though the setting is really familiar).

Who is at risk for simple partial seizures?

Anybody can get them. They may be more likely in people who have had a head injury, brain infection, stroke, or brain tumor but most of the time the cause is unknown.

What is it like to have a simple partial seizure?

When people have simple partial seizures, they are fully awake, alert and able to interact throughout the seizure. Overall, these seizures are brief lasting less than 2 minutes

Medical disorders such as, stomach disorders or a pinched nerve can cause some similar symptoms. Hallucinations can accompany psychiatric illness or the use of certain drugs. And some symptoms (such as déja vu) are experienced by almost everyone at some time. Whether the symptoms represent simple partial seizures depends on how often they occur and whether they are associated with other episodic changes or other seizure types.

What happens after a simple partial seizure?

When a simple partial seizure ends, the person more often than not simply continues doing whatever they were doing before it started. If the simple partial seizure is an aura (a warning) a stronger seizure with loss of consciousness may follow. No first aid is needed for a simple partial seizure.

If someone has simple partial seizures, how often will they occur?

It depends. Some people may have just one seizure and others may have several.

How can I tell if someone is having a simple partial seizure?

Because the person is fully alert and able to interact, someone may not be able to tell when a person is having a simple partial seizure unless the person tells them.

How are simple partial seizures diagnosed?

A complete medical history and physical examination can help to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms and assess the likelihood of epilepsy. Although EEGs are also helpful they may not always show an abnormality during a simple partial seizure?

How are simple partial seizures treated?

There are several medicines, a device (Vagus nerve stimulator), surgery and diet that can help prevent further simple partial seizures from occurring.

What should I do if I think my child, loved one, or myself may have simple partial seizures?

If you think that you, your child or loved one may have simple partial seizures, it is important to let your doctor know right away. Seek help to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

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

Simple Partial Seizures are remarkably different from person to person, depending on the part of the brain where they begin. The one thing they all have in common is that the person remains alert and can remember what happens. Here are a couple of experiences:

  • "I almost enjoy them. The feeling of déja vu, as if I've lived through this moment and I even know what's going to be said next. Everything seems brighter and more alive."
  • "It is a pressure that starts in my stomach, then rises to my chest and throat. When it reaches my chest, I smell an unpleasant odor of something burnt. At the same time I feel anxious."

Sometimes the seizure activity spreads to other parts of the brain, so another type of seizure follows the simple partial seizure. This can be a complex partial seizure or a secondarily generalized seizure.