Focal Epilepsy

Epilepsy Information 2012

Diagnosing Focal Epilepsy

Focal epilepsy is a subtype of epilepsy and is primarily characterized by a remnant disturbance which manifests either as a twitch in a specific part of the body or a perception in one of the sensory functions that is not really there. The remnant disturbance is caused by the same electrical imbalance that triggered the seizure. The manifestation of the imbalance depends on which exact part of the brain experiences the electrical disturbance.

A more common term for focal epilepsy is partial epilepsy or partial seizure. This is actually a very important clue towards epileptic diagnosis as partial epilepsy suggests a more localized cause for the seizures. In generalized epilepsy, the seizures affect the whole brain and are generated in various locations that are hard to isolate. Contrast this with focal epilepsy which can be specifically traced to one area of the brain.

Some of the more common areas of the brain where focal epilepsy originates include the temporal lobes, frontal lobes, parietal lobes and occipital lobes. Each of these areas generates a different set of symptoms which are then used to distinguish one from the other. For example, focal epilepsy in the temporal lobe can be characterized by memory flashbacks or sensiry illusions like non-existent smells; contrast this with focal epilepsy in the frontal lobes which tend to have motor-related manifestations such as twitching arms, or temporary paralysis.

While it is very hard to identify one specific cause for epilepsy in general and focal epilepsy in particular, there is a high chance that structural damage or physical trauma induced the seizures. When presented with focal epilepsy, doctors will tend to gravitate towards events like accidents, trauma, neonatal developmental problems or sports-related injuries to find the cause. Again, this diagnosis is not always true but a good percentage of cases are eventually diagnosed to a specific brain problem that correlates with the focal epilepsy symptoms.

In all cases, epilepsy is managed by a combination of medication and therapy. Only in very rare and severe cases is surgery considered to remedy a focal epilepsy case. Common medications used to manage seizures include Tegretol, Tranxene, Klonopin, Zarontin and Felbatol among others. Generic brands like Cerebryx and Topamax are also used as well as valproate derivatives like Depakote and Depakene.

The rate of recovery from focal epilepsy is fairly high if the diagnosis identifies the cause of the seizures quickly enough. If diagnosis takes too long, the likelihood of a cure is also reduced. In many cases, focal epilepsy patients report that roughly 50% are responsive to medication through anticonvulsants while the remaining 50% continue to experience periodic seizures. As such, there is still plenty of headway to be made in the diagnosis and cure of epilepsy and seizure-related illnesses.

At the forefront of this battle against seizures is to understand the mechanism that drives focal epilepsy. Because partial seizures are easier to catalogue and understand, it is becoming a template for examining and isolating epileptic causes. With continued advancements in medical science, there are high hopes that focal epilepsy will pave the way for curing general epilepsy in the near future.