What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy, sometimes referred to as seizure disorder, is a general term that refers to a tendency to have recurrent seizures. A seizure is a temporary disturbance in brain function in which groups of nerve cells in the brain signal abnormally and excessively. During a seizure, disturbances of nerve cell activity produce symptoms that vary depending on which part (and how much) of the brain is affected. Seizures may produce changes in awareness or sensation, involuntary movements, or other changes in behavior. Usually, a seizure lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes.
What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy can happen when there are disruptions to the normal connections between nerve cells in the brain (much like disruptions in wiring of a complex electrical circuit), when there are imbalances of natural chemicals or neurotransmitters that are important to the signaling among nerve cells, or when there are changes in the membranes of nerve cells, including proteins called ion channels, that alter their normal sensitivity.
What conditions can lead to epilepsy?
Oxygen deprivation (e.g., during childbirth); brain infections (e.g., meningitis, encephalitis, cysticercosis, or brain abscess); traumatic brain injury or head injury; stroke (resulting from a block or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain); other neurologic diseases (e.g., Alzheimer disease); brain tumors; and, certain genetic disorders.
What if there’s no underlying cause?
In nearly two-thirds of the cases of epilepsy, a specific underlying cause is not identified. In these instances, the cause may be labeled cryptogenic if the cause is unknown, or idiopathic if the epilepsy is not associated with other neurologic disease but is consistent with certain syndromes that may be inherited.
Is having a seizure the same thing as having epilepsy?
Not always. Generally, seizures do not indicate epilepsy when they occur as a result of a temporary medical condition such as a high fever, low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or immediately following a brain concussion. In this instance and without a history of seizures at other times, there is usually no need for ongoing treatment for epilepsy, only a need to treat the underlying medical condition.
Is epilepsy preventable?
Epilepsy sometimes can be preventable, depending on the cause. Proper prenatal care to avoid problems during pregnancy and childbirth may lessen complications that could lead to epilepsy. Proper immunization is also important in order to lessen the likelihood of infections that can sometimes involve epilepsy, and, last, to avoid traumatic brain injury, be sure to wear a seatbelt when driving and a helmet if riding a motorcycle.
How is epilepsy treated?
Before a person begins treatment, the first step is to ensure that the diagnosis of epilepsy is correct and to determine, if possible, the type of epilepsy and whether there are any underlying conditions that also need treatment. The most common form of treatment is antiepileptic drugs. When it’s certain that epilepsy arises from a single area of the brain (seizure focus), surgery might be the best course of action. Another option called vagus nerve stimulation is a supplemental treatment and may be used when surgery and medication aren’t enough.
Is epilepsy the same in men and women?
Women with epilepsy can experience difficulties arising from hormonal changes during their reproductive cycle that sometimes can affect the tendency to have seizures. Pregnancy brings some special considerations for women with epilepsy, because seizure occurrence and certain drugs taken during this time may sometimes carry a risk of harm to the developing fetus. Usually these risks can be minimized by several precautions women can take before and during pregnancy.
Is epilepsy fatal?
Most people with epilepsy live a full life span. Nevertheless, the risk of premature death is increased for some, depending on how serious the underlying condition is, injuries sustained from a seizure, prolonged seizures, or a rare condition where people with epilepsy can experience sudden death (SUDEP).
CDC.gov. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/epilepsy.htm
NIH.gov. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/detail_epilepsy.htm#254673109
Published On: March 26, 2014