Frontal Lobe
  • Frontal lobe epilepsy produces brief seizures.
  • These seizures may be startling, including screaming.
  • These seizures may occur in clusters.
  • Treatment includes medication, and sometimes surgery.

Who gets it?

After temporal lobe epilepsy, frontal lobe epilepsy is the next most common type of epilepsy featuring partial seizures. Frontal lobe epilepsy may run in families. In one rare genetic disorder (called autosomal dominant frontal lobe epilepsy or ADFLE), several individuals in a family typically have seizures during sleep. Frontal lobe seizures can be caused by abnormal brain tissue, for example from a dysplasia (birth defect in the brain), abnormal blood vessel, old stroke or trauma, rarely tumors, scars from prior infections and several other causes. In about half of cases, no cause is determined.

Tell me more

The frontal lobes are large and include many areas that do not have a precisely known function. Therefore, when a seizure begins in these areas, there may be no symptoms until it spreads to other areas or to most of the brain, causing a tonic-clonic seizure. When areas that control movement (called motor areas) are affected, abnormal movements occur on the opposite side of the body. Seizures beginning in motor areas can cause weakness or the inability to use certain muscles, such as the muscles that allow someone to speak. Twisting, turning, pedaling or grimacing movements are common with frontal lobe seizures.

Sometimes a person remains fully aware during a frontal lobe seizure while having wild movements of the arms and legs. Because of their strange nature, frontal lobe seizures can be misdiagnosed as nonepileptic seizures.

The features of seizures may suggest whether they begin in the frontal or temporal lobes. Yet, the only way to be certain about where they start is to obtain an EEG recording during a seizure. Occasionally, an EEG recorded from the scalp may be not give enough information, even during a frontal lobe seizure if the seizure activity remains deep in the brain.

Complex partial seizures (during which the person is not aware) also may begin in the frontal lobes. Complex partial seizures beginning in the frontal lobe tend to be shorter (usually lasting less than 1 minute) than ones that start in the temporal lobe. They also are less likely to be followed by confusion or tiredness, more often occur in a cluster or series, and are more likely to include strange movements such as bicycling motions, screaming, or other activities.

How is it treated?

Frontal lobe seizures often can be well controlled with medications for partial seizures. If seizure medicines are not effective, vagus nerve stimulation or surgery may be help.

What's the outlook?

The outlook for people with frontal lobe epilepsy varies greatly, depending on the cause of the seizures. People with brain malformations or acquired lesions such as scar tissue caused by injury or infection are likely to require life-long treatment with seizure medicines. If the causes are genetic, the seizures eventually may stop.

Authored by: Gregory L. Holmes, MD | Robert S. Fisher, MD, PhD on 9/2013
Reviewed by: Robert S. Fisher, MD, PhD on 9/2013
What It Looks Like...

Here's a typical story: "My head starts jerking toward the right side. I try, but can't stop it. Then my right hand goes up and my head turns toward the hand. I may just stay in that position for half a minute and it's over, or it can become a grand mal seizure."

Here's what a family member sees: "I spend the night watching Molly sleep sometimes. She will have 5 or 10 seizures in a single night. They are short, usually less than 20 seconds. Her body starts to rock, like she is adjusting her position in the bed, and then she may start to make these kicking movements with her legs, like she is riding a bicycle. She may not have any more seizures for a month or two."

An account by another family member: "Craig has had the same giggles for more than a decade. Now they occur mainly when he is exercising or stressed. He makes a weird smirk and then giggles for a few seconds. He is usually able to cover it up and the kids don't know. If he misses his medications, he can have a bigger seizure."