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What is Jacksonian Epilepsy?

Karyn Maier
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Jacksonian epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by simple partial seizures that usually occur in only one side of the body. Like other forms of epilepsy, Jacksonian epilepsy occurs due to spurts of irregular or elevated electrical impulses in the brain that cause neurons to fire at an extremely rapid rate. However, this mild form of epilepsy is unique in that excessive neural activity begins in the general motor cortex region of the brain, producing a contralateral effect. This means that seizure activity occurs on the side of the body that is controlled by the opposite side of the brain in which electrical impulses have momentarily gone awry.

Another unique characteristic of Jacksonian epilepsy is that abnormal neural firing localized to the motor cortex tends to trigger a cascade of partial seizures in associated muscles in a predictable succession. For example, the first sign of seizure may be experienced as twitching or a tingling sensation in a finger, a big toe, or the corner of the mouth, which then advances to the entire hand, foot, or surrounding facial muscles, respectively. This progression of seizure activity is described as a Jacksonian march.

Jacksonian epilepsy seizures are usually intermittent and of short duration. In fact, it’s not uncommon for symptoms to escape notice altogether. While some seizures may involve pain and other unpleasant symptoms, such as drooling or muscle weakness, others may barely register on a physical level. Likewise, unless there is a real flurry of electrical activity occurring in the brain at once, cognitive and motor functioning may only be interrupted for a brief moment, if at all. Rarely does loss of consciousness occur.

Although simple partial seizures typically experienced with Jacksonian epilepsy are mild in nature and duration, they can produce some unusual sensory phenomena nonetheless. For example, the patient may exhibit a number of automatisms, such as compulsively licking the lips, unconsciously fumbling with clothing, or engaging in rhythmic finger movements. Some people may also experience visual or auditory disturbances, including hallucinations. Others may experience an exaggerated sense of taste or smell. In addition, some patients may not be able to recall the seizure itself or the moments immediately preceding it.

Jacksonian epilepsy is rarely treated with medication. In fact, the majority of Jacksonian seizures cease nearly as quickly as they begin without any intervention whatsoever. In addition, partial seizures do not produce extreme and erratic movements that may potentially harm others in close proximity. However, it would be advisable to take reasonable measures to ensure that the patient is not injured during a seizure, if necessary.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.

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Discussion Comments
By anon162519 — On Mar 23, 2011

My hands and feet start to go numb and get tingly feeling, then my right side of my body starts to jerk, and my face goes numb. It feels like tiny needles are poking my face, hands and feet -- everywhere.

By anon127942 — On Nov 17, 2010

My right hand begins to tingle, like a mild electric shock. This sensation slowly moves up my arm reaching my elbow. At that point my left hand begins to have the same sensation slowly moving up my left arm. It feels like my hands and arms are being shocked by electricity.

The strangest of all is at the point when both my hands are tingling, they begin to slowly pull towards each other like two magnets. I fight to keep my hands from touching while opening and closing my hands. When the tingling sensation reaches both shoulders my hands touch and I've been told that it looks like I am trying to pray.

I black out and have a massive seizure. When it stops my mind is unconscious and i am awake. I ask "Who am I? Where am I? What happened?" I am speaking and the people who have seen this tell me, that I am a different person. Unable to remember who and where I am and what has happened to me.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's...
Learn more
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