This investigation is to our knowledge the first population-based case-control study of risk factors for complex partial seizures (CPS). Included in the study were all patients with onset of complex partial seizures before age 35, who were residents of Rochester, Minnesota, at the time of diagnosis between 1935 and 1979, and who were also born in Rochester (n = 82). Two control subjects were matched to each patient, and for both patients and control subjects, the unique records-linkage system for residents of Rochester was used to obtain information about possible risk factors. A history of epilepsy or febrile seizures in the mother, febrile seizures, neonatal convulsions, cerebral palsy, head trauma, and viral encephalitis were significantly more common in patients than in control subjects (p less than 0.05). None of the prenatal or perinatal factors investigated were found to be associated with complex partial seizures, except for being small for gestational age at birth. This factor lost significance after adjustment for cerebral palsy.