Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain sometimes signal abnormally. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity — from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development — can lead to seizures. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, or some combination of these factors. Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. EEGs and brain scans are common diagnostic test for epilepsy.

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. For about 80 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with modern medicines and surgical techniques. Some antiepiletic drugs can interfere with the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. In 1997, the FDA approved the vagus nerve stimulator for use in people with seizures that are not well-controlled by medication.

Most people with epilepsy lead outwardly normal lives. While epilepsy cannot currently be cured, for some people it does eventually go away. Most seizures do not cause brain damage. It is not uncommon for people with epilepsy, especially children, to develop behavioral and emotional problems, sometimes the consequence of embarrassment and frustration or bullying, teasing, or avoidance in school and other social setting. For many people with epilepsy, the risk of seizures restricts their independence (some states refuse drivers licenses to people with epilepsy) and recreational activities. People with epilepsy are at special risk for two life-threatening conditions: status epilepticus and sudden unexplained death. Most women with epilepsy can become pregnant, but they should discuss their epilepsy and the medications they are taking with their doctors. Women with epilepsy have a 90 percent or better chance of having a normal, healthy baby.

An epileptic seizure (often called a fit and sometimes an attack, turn or blackout) happens when ordinary brain activity is suddenly disrupted. The seizures described here are epileptic and arise from the brain. Epileptic seizures can take many forms, since the brain is responsible for such a wide range of functions, including:

There are many different types of seizures. When naming seizures, it is important to use terms which describe what is happening during the seizure and to avoid terms such as 'mild' or 'major' which do not describe the event. A person with epilepsy can experience more than one type of seizure. The frequency, length and pattern of seizures tends to be fairly constant for each person, although it may change in the longer term. If a person becomes aware of any changes to their seizures it may be helpful to have a review of their epilepsy and its treatment.

Epilepsy with Absence seizures

Absence seizures occur most commonly in children and are sometimes referred to as 'petit mal'. The person experiences a brief interruption of consciousness and becomes unresponsive. They may appear 'blank' or 'staring' usually without any other features, except perhaps for a fluttering of the eyelids. Absence seizures often last for only a couple of seconds and as they are subtle they may go unnoticed.

Epilepsy with Atonic seizures

Atonic seizures, also known as drop attacks. These involve a sudden loss of muscle tone, causing the person to fall. Again, there is consequent risk of injury but recovery is generally rapid.

Epilepsy with Complex partial seizures

Complex partial seizures differ from simple partial seizures in that consciousness is affected and so the person may have limited or no memory of the seizure. The seizures may be characterized by a change in awareness as well as automatic movements such as fiddling with clothes or objects, mumbling or making chewing movements, or wandering about and general confusion. The person may respond if spoken to. Complex partial seizures most often involve the temporal lobes of the brain, in which case the person may be said to have 'temporal lobe epilepsy', however they can also affect the frontal, parietal and occipital lobes.

Epilepsy with Generalized seizures

In these seizures the whole of the brain is involved and consciousness is lost. They often occur with no warning and the person will have no memory of the event.

Epilepsy with Myoclonic seizures

Myoclonic seizures involve brief and abrupt jerking of one or more limbs. These often happen within a short time of waking up, either on their own or with other forms of generalised seizure.

Epilepsy with Nocturnal seizures

Some people experience seizures only during sleep. As these will usually be at night they are called nocturnal seizures. These seizures could also occur during the day if the person were to fall asleep. This does not describe the form that the seizures take, only the time when they occur.

Epilepsy with Partial seizures

During partial seizures the disturbance in brain activity begins in or involves one part of the brain. These seizures are sometimes known as 'focal' seizures. A person's experiences during the seizure will depend on which part of the brain is being affected.

Epilepsy with Secondarily Generalized Seizure

For some people either of these partial seizures may spread to involve the whole of the brain. This is called a secondarily generalised seizure and the person will lose consciousness. If this spread is rapid, the person may not be aware of the partial seizure onset.

Epilepsy with Simple partial seizures

In simple partial seizures consciousness is not impaired. The seizure may be confined to either rhythmical twitching of one limb or part of a limb, or to unusual tastes or sensations such as pins and needles in a specific part of the body. Simple partial seizures sometimes develop into other sorts of seizures and so they may be referred to as a 'warning' or 'aura'.

Epilepsy with Tonic-clonic convulsive seizure

The most recognized type of seizure is the generalized tonic-clonic convulsive seizure, sometimes called a 'grand mal' seizure. In the first part of the seizure the person becomes rigid and may fall. The muscles then relax and tighten rhythmically causing the person to convulse. At the start of the seizure the person may bite their tongue or cry out. Breathing may become laboured and they may be incontinent. After the seizure the person may feel tired, confused, have a headache and may need to rest to recover fully.

Epilepsy with Tonic seizures

In tonic seizures there is general stiffening of the muscles without rhythmical jerking. The person may fall to the ground with consequent risk of injury but generally recovery is quick.

Epilepsy with Unclassifiable seizures

Some seizure patterns may not fit into any of the above categories or may include elements of different seizures. These are called unclassifiable seizures.

Links to Epilepsy

  • American Epilepsy Society: The American Epilepsy Society promotes research and education for professionals dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of epilepsy. Membership in the Society is made up of clinicians and researchers investigating basic and clinical aspects of epilepsy, and other health-care professionals interested in seizure disorders.
  • Epilepsy Information Page: From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Exceptional site with extensive information.
  • The Epilepsy Project: A very informatiove site geared for children, teens, parents, families and adults.
  • National Society for Epilepsy:On this site you will find up to date information on epilepsy, causes of seizures, treatment, first aid for seizures, and lifestyle issues. On this site you will find up to date information on epilepsy, causes of seizures, treatment, first aid for seizures, and lifestyle issues. On this site you will find up to date information on epilepsy, causes of seizures, treatment, first aid for seizures, and lifestyle issues.
  • Epilepsy Foundation: The Epilepsy Foundation will ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; and will prevent, control and cure epilepsy through research, education, advocacy and services.
  • What is Epilepsy all about: Epilepsy is a disorder in which nerve cells of the brain from time to time release abnormal electrical impulses. These cause a temporary malfunction of the other nerve cells of the brain, resulting in alteration of, or complete loss of consciousness.
  • Epilepsy in young children: There are currently 1811 stories on this site. In order to help you to find relevant stories for you to read, you can search for stories in different ways: by childname, by diagnosis, by treatment or by age. By combining all stories, some statistics are generated with regards to certain treatments and diagnoses. These statistics are not 'scientifically correct', and they were never intended to be.
  • What are the different kinds of seizures?
  • How is Epilepsy diagnosed?
  • How can Epilepsy be treated?
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