Symptoms of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

In temporal lobe epilepsy, seizures begin in the brain's temporal lobe. The seizure episodes may result in diminished awareness or a complete lack of awareness, and they usually include unusual sensations, such as phantom smells or physical sensations.

Some people with temporal lobe seizures will also experience stiffness and/or jerking of one or both sides of the body. This type of seizure may remain a focal seizure, which means that it only involves one area of the brain, or it may generalize, involving both sides of the brain.

This article will include a description of the frequent and rare symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy and associated symptoms that may affect people with temporal lobe epilepsy even when they are not having a seizure.

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Frequent Symptoms 

Temporal lobe seizures typically involve unusual feelings or perceptions. This type of seizure is often described by the people who experience them as “a feeling that I cannot put into words.”

The seizures can be triggered by the same triggers that precede other types of seizures, such as a fever, alcohol, and fatigue. But they may also occur without any trigger.

Common descriptions and symptoms of temporal lobe seizures:

  • A sense of déjà vu (an unexplained feeling you have seen or experienced something before)
  • A feeling of doom 
  • Staring into space
  • Distaste or repulsion without a reason 
  • Perceiving smells, physical sensations, or tastes that are not present 
  • Stomach upset
  • Altered level of awareness 
  • Involuntary movements of the face or fingers
  • Jerking or stiffening of arms or legs on one or both sides of the body 
  • Postictal (recovery phase from seizure) tiredness or disorientation for hours after the seizure 

Temporal lobe seizures can begin and end as focal seizures, which only involve the temporal lobe, a region of the brain that involves memory, emotions, and sensations. When they are focal, the seizures do not involve both sides of the body and do not cause loss of consciousness. 

Temporal lobe seizures can also spread to become generalized tonic-clonic seizures involving both sides of the brain. In these instances, they will cause a change in awareness, a jerking and stiffening of the body, and possibly a loss of consciousness.

Rare Symptoms 

For some people, a sense of fatigue and disorientation can last for days after a temporal lobe seizure. Less common symptoms that have been associated with temporal lobe epilepsy may affect cognition (thinking and learning).

Studies suggest that people with temporal lobe epilepsy have a risk of long-term memory deficits. This occurs because the temporal lobe is a region of the brain that facilitates memory and emotions, which are closely linked.

Certain sensations, such as sensations that a person may feel during a temporal lobe seizure, are also associated with memory and emotions.

Research suggests that for some people with temporal lobe epilepsy, attention may be impaired, even when the seizures are not occurring or when they are well treated. Also, some people with temporal lobe epilepsy may have an increased risk of bad dreams.

Complications/Subgroup Indications

Temporal lobe seizures are usually self-limited and brief, meaning they will end on their own after a few seconds without urgent treatment.

Sometimes the seizures can last for a long period or recur rapidly within a short period. This is a serious condition known as status epilepticus, and it can lead to severe brain damage or death. 

A seizure can lead to an injury or a fall. Complications like drowning, a burn, or a car accident can occur. Part of epilepsy management is learning about such risks and how to avoid them.

When to See a Healthcare Provider/Go to the Hospital

Living with epilepsy means that you might need to get urgent medical care if you have a serious seizure or if you have an injury due to a seizure.

You will need to maintain regularly scheduled visits with a neurologist (a specialist in nervous system conditions) who will work with you to manage your epilepsy. Contact your neurologist if you think your seizures or other symptoms are worsening or if you could be having side effects from your anti-epilepsy medication (AED).

Side effects can include lightheadedness, fatigue, tingling, appetite changes, or worsening seizures. A rash could be an indication of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a dangerous medication reaction. 

Seek emergency medical attention for:

  • A seizure that seems like it’s lasting longer than a minute 
  • Recurrent seizures in a short period of time 
  • A physical injury 
  • A skin rash while taking AEDs

Summary 

Temporal lobe epilepsy causes recurrent seizures that can cause symptoms of physical sensations or unusual feelings that can’t necessarily be clearly described. Some people say that it feels like déjà vu or an unusual sense of unexplained dread.

The seizures may remain focal, only involving the temporal lobe, or they can generalize, resulting in movements that affect both sides of the body and diminished consciousness. Complications can include physical injuries or status epilepticus. 

A Word From Verywell

Temporal lobe epilepsy is one of the common types of epilepsy. In addition to seizures, people who have temporal lobe epilepsy may also have symptoms involving memory and concentration.

Though it can be distressing to know that you might be at risk of other symptoms besides seizures, it’s helpful to discuss the possibility of other symptoms with your healthcare providers so you can have neuropsychological testing and therapy if necessary. 

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Epilepsy Foundation. Temporal lobe epilepsy.

  2. Asadi-Pooya AA, Farazdaghi M. Clinical characteristics of MRI-negative temporal lobe epilepsy. Acta Neurol Belg. 2022 Nov 17. doi:10.1007/s13760-022-02145-2

  3. Tramoni-Negre E, Lambert I, Bartolomei F, Felician O. Long-term memory deficits in temporal lobe epilepsy. Rev Neurol (Paris). 2017;173(7-8):490-497. doi:10.1016/j.neurol.2017.06.011

  4. Englot DJ, Morgan VL, Chang C. Impaired vigilance networks in temporal lobe epilepsy: mechanisms and clinical implications. Epilepsia. 2020;61(2):189-202. doi:10.1111/epi.16423

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.