Epilepsy is a neurological brain disorder which is characterized by seizure activity. Seizures are periods of abnormal neuronal activity which may cause body movements, or staring. Some seizures will cause the body to fall to the ground in unconsciousness, while other types of seizures will allow you to remain upright, but not conscious of your surroundings.
What causes epilepsy?
It’s not known what actually causes epilepsy, but there are factors that can cause seizure activity. The word epilepsy is a medical term for chronic seizure activity.
Oftentimes, it is an injury that causes a person to have seizures. A seizure is caused by electrical brain impulses which are transmitted to some part of the body in an uncontrolled manner. If electrical impulses are mistakenly sent to the muscles, those muscles are likely to jerk or twitch.
Sometimes certain drugs, elevated temperature, abnormal glucose or sodium levels in the blood could cause seizure activity. If seizure activity only occurs during a time of elevated temperature, abnormal chemistry in the blood or from drug use, the seizure activity would not be considered to be epilepsy.
A traumatic brain injury could cause abnormal firing of the neurons, which might result in seizure activity. Seizures often present in individuals between the ages of five and twenty; however, this disorder can strike any person at any age.
Some of the possible causes of epilepsy are:
Traumatic brain injury
Congenital brain defects
Many types of metabolic diseases
Symptoms of epilepsy
The severity of one’s symptoms will vary from person to person. Some people may experience staring spells and other people may have violent convulsions and loss of awareness. Most people who have epilepsy have the same type of seizures. For instance, if a person has generalized tonic seizures, he/she is likely to have similar seizure activity in varying degrees of intensity. One seizure might be more or less violent or intense than the last one. The type of seizure that a person has depends on which part of the brain is affected. The different types of seizures are absence, partial, and generalized tonic seizures.
Symptoms of generalized tonic seizures:
Person becomes unconscious
Seizure activity of movements of extremities
Eyes may be open
Shallow breathing during seizure
May stop breathing during seizure
May turn blue from not breathing
Deep breathing after seizure
Gradual return to consciousness
May become incontinent of urine
Brief period of confusion upon waking
A person who is going to have a seizure may have a warning such as seeing lights, smelling or tasting something just prior to having the seizure.
Symptoms of partial seizures:
Only a certain part of the brain will be involved in a partial seizure. The manifestation of partial seizures might include:
Rhythmic or jerking movements of a hand, foot, leg etc
Making picking motions in the air
Making picking motions on clothing (like picking lint off shirt)
May appear confused or dazed (complex partial seizure)
Person may be awake or unconscious
May make sounds like laughing
May become fearful
Has altered state of consciousness
May walk in circles
The person may stay in the aura stage of seizure activity
Symptoms of absence (petit mal) seizures:
This type of seizure is most common in children.
Staring blankly for brief periods
May have repetitive blinking
May make purposeless movements
An individual may have an aura before a seizure, such as seeing blinking or flashing lights before going into a seizure.
Diagnostic evaluation for epilepsy
If your doctor suspects you might have epilepsy, a physical examination with a detailed neurological examination will be required. For instance, your doctor will probably order an electroencephalogram (EEG), which will record the electrical activity in your brain. An EEG may be able to locate the part of the brain from which the seizures originate.
Other testing for epilepsy may include:
CBC (complete blood count)
Liver function tests
Tests for infectious diseases
Lumbar puncture to get CSF (cerebrospinal fluid)
Cerebrospinal fluid analysis
Kidney function tests
CT scan of the head
MRI of the head
Treatment options for epilepsy
If the cause for the seizures can be identified, the seizures may be able to be stopped or treated. For instance, if a tumor is the root cause of one’s seizure activity, if the tumor can be surgically removed, the seizures could stop.
Most people can be treated with anticonvulsant medications to prevent or reduce the number of seizures they have. Anticonvulsant drugs can be taken by mouth; the type of medication that will be prescribed will depend on the type of seizures a person has.
It is important to see your doctor for regular checkups. The dosage of anti-seizure medication may need adjusting from time to time. Your doctor may need to order periodic blood tests from time to time to see if you have the proper level of medication in your blood to prevent seizures. Too much Dilantin or other anti-seizure medication in the blood could cause decreased level of consciousness, joint pain or low blood pressure. Too little of the medication in the blood could cause the seizure activity to return. It is also very important to take your medication as directed by your doctor.
A person who has epilepsy should have a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet is important, as is getting enough sleep. It is important, when you are taking anticonvulsants, to abstain from alcohol and recreational drugs, or drugs that are not approved by your doctor. If you engage in contact sports, such as football, or you ride bikes or ride motorcycles, it is important to wear a helmet to protect your head from injury.