A central nervous system disorder (a neurological disorder) in which abnormal brain cell activity appears and triggers seizures. Seizures have different manifestations (such as absent gazing, repeated movements, twitching, shaking or even loss of consciousness) depending on what part(s) of the brain is(are) abnormally firing signals. Epileptic seizures usually appear between the ages of 5 and 20 years old, but unfortunately a person can have them at any age.

Causes

 

Seizures appear due to a medical condition or are idiopathic (cause is unknown)

Genetics tend to influence a person’s predisposition to epilepsy

Traumatic brain injury

Abnormal blood vessels in the brain

Stroke or transient ischemic attack (blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted briefly)

Dementia

Infections – meningitis, encephalitis, brain abscess, HIV/AIDS

Congenital brain defect (problems present from birth)

Brain injury that occurs during or close after birth

Metabolism disorders present from birth

Brain tumor

Symptoms and signs

Symptoms depend on the type of seizures a person has and may include:

Temporary confusion

Staring, fixed gaze

Uncontrollable movements in the arms and legs

Loss of consciousness

 

Seizures are classified as focal or generalized

 

Focal seizures – abnormal activity in only one part of the brain is present

These seizures have two subcategories:

 

Simple partial seizures (focal seizures without the loss of consciousness): altered emotions; things feel, smell, taste, sound, look different; possible involuntary jerking of a body part, tingling, faint sensation, flashing lights

 

Complex partial seizures (focal dyscognitive seizures): change or loss of consciousness/awareness, absent staring, unresponsive, performing repetitive movements

 

Generalized seizures:

Absence seizures (petit mal seizures): often occur in children, absent staring, subtle movements like blinking and lip smacking

Tonic seizures: muscle stiffness; usually affects back, arms and legs muscles causing falls

Atonic seizures (drop seizures): loss of muscle control; collapsing

Clonic seizures: repeated muscle movements, jerking; usually affects face, neck and arms muscles

Myoclonic seizures: sudden, brief twitches of the arms and legs

Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures): possible loss of consciousness, muscle stiffening, shaking, loss of bladder control, tongue biting

Advice

 

Symptoms, personal medical history and family medical history are checked

 

Blood tests are required to see any signs of infection, genetic or other aspects that may be provoking seizures

 

A neurological examination will test behavior, motor abilities and mental functions

 

Neuropsychological tests help determine which area of the brain is affected by assessing memory, language and thinking skills

 

In order to detect brain abnormalities: EEG (electroencephalogram – electrodes are attached to the scalp to record brain activity), CT scan (computerized tomography – x-ray images of the brain in order to see possible tumors, cysts or bleeding), MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), fMRI (functional MRI – measures changes in blood flow in specific parts of the brain), PET (positron emission tomography – visualizing areas of the brain by injecting a low-dose radioactive substance), SPECT (single photon emission computerized tomography – creates a 3D map of the brain’s blood flow during seizures)

 

Anti-epileptic medication is recommended in order to keep seizures under control

 

Your doctor will decide the right dosage and exact medication based on seizure frequency, general health, age and other possible medication interactions

 

Always tell your doctor about changes you experience while on medication or possible discomfort, alternative treatments (chemical or herbal)

 

Surgery is an option in the cases in which the area from which seizures originate is very small and well-defined or in the cases in which medication is inefficient and there is no other option

 

In the cases in which the area that needs to be operated is in a vital part of the brain and cannot be removed, several other cuts will be made in order to keep it from spreading to other brain regions

 

A way of reducing seizure frequency by 20-40%: vagus nerve stimulation – a device that is similar to a heart pace-maker is implanted underneath the chest skin and its wires are connected to the vagus nerve (the longest cranial nerve, contains motor and sensory fibers) in the neck

 

For children (possibility to remain seizure-free): the ketogenic diet – a strict diet that is high in fats and low in carbohydrates

MISCONCEPTIONS
  •  

    Epilepsy is a form of (spiritual) possession and not a medical condition

     

    Epilepsy is contagious

     

    People with epilepsy cannot have normal lives, have children, achieve academic goals or have a remarkable work performance

     

    Seizures only manifest themselves through convulsions

     

    People with epilepsy can swallow their tongues during a seizure

Statistics

 

About 65 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy

 

Medication can help control seizures in almost 70% of the cases

 

Ranked the 4th most common neurological problem

 

An estimated number of 2.2 million people in the US suffer from epilepsy

Did you know?

 

In some cases, children can outgrow their epileptic condition

 

Trying to restrain a person that is having a seizure can actually result in injury (for both sides). The best course of actions is to try to lay him/her on their side and make sure breathing is optimal.

 

Epilepsy can have in rare cases life-threatening complications such as: status epilepticus (seizures last more than 5 minutes, come one after another; increased risk of permanent brain damage or even death) and Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) – around 1% of the people with epilepsy die due to this complication.

 

Remarkable figures that suffered from epilepsy: Isaac Newton, Ludwig van Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Agatha Christie, Napoleon