Epilepsy, a group of neurological disorders related to seizures, can affect people of all ages and there are about 65 million cases around the world. Understanding epilepsy also includes understanding seizures and how they affect the body. Here’s a look at seizures, how they relate to epilepsy and how epilepsy can be treated.

Seizures

A seizure is defined by the Epilepsy Foundation as a “sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain.” It generally causes noticeable changes to behavior while it’s taking place, including an apparent loss of cognition.

Not all seizures are necessarily symptoms of epilepsy, however, and not all people who appear to have seizures have epilepsy. There are two types of seizures that aren’t generally related to epilepsy:

epilepsy brain scan
  • Nonepileptic seizures: Also called pseudoseizures, these are events that appear like true seizures, but do not come with any of the usual strange electrical activity in the brain. They are often caused by stress or other psychological issues. Because they look the same as epileptic seizures, they can be tough to diagnose separately, and doctors will typically look to abnormal test readings and a lack of response to drugs that usually succeed in treating epilepsy. Non-epileptic seizures can be treated with medication and psychotherapy.
  • Provoked seizures: These are individual seizures that come on due to other events such as low blood sugar or sodium, high fever, trauma or drug and alcohol abuse. In many cases, they don’t require significant treatment.

Roughly half of the people who have one seizure without a known cause will have another, usually within six months. After two seizures, the chances of another are closer to 80 percent.

There are a few different types of seizures that might be present in people who have epilepsy:

Generalized Onset Seizures:

Generalized onset seizures affect both sides of the brain, or can affect cells on both sides of the brain simultaneously. These can also be referred to as grand mal seizures. Their symptoms include:

  • • Cries or outward sounds, followed by stiffening and rhythmic movements of the arms and legs
  • Open eyes
  • • An appearance of not breathing, and the sufferer may turn blue—after, though, they generally take deep and loud breaths
  • • Involuntary urination
  • • Gradual return to consciousness, including confusion

Focal Onset Seizures:

Focal seizures begin in one area of the brain. If the person is awake and aware during the seizure, it’s called a focal onset aware seizure—when they’re confused or not fully aware, it’s called a focal impaired awareness seizure. Symptoms vary depending on these and other factors, but they can include:

  • • Jerky or rhythmic movements in the hand
  • • Sensations like repetitive movements, smacking of lips or feeling full in the stomach
  • • Appearance of confusion

Absence Seizures:

Also called petit mal seizures, these are brief seizures accompanied by blank stares, or repetitive blinking and small movements. They’re most common in children, and may occur multiple times a day.

Unknown Onset Seizures:

This is a name for seizures with which the cause is not known, often because they aren’t witnessed by anyone. These can be re-classified later if more information is learned.

Epilepsy Causes and Risk Factors

Only a minority of cases have clear causes of epilepsy, generally those involving an injury to the brain. Other causes may include:

  • • Brain tumors
  • • Low oxygen during birth
  • • Genetic conditions
  • • Stroke or other brain damage
  • • Infections like meningitis or encephalitis
  • • Unusual levels of sodium or blood sugar
epilepsy and genetics

Exact causes are unknown in about 70 percent of cases in adults and children. However, there are certain factors that can incite seizures in people who do have epilepsy—these are triggers that epilepsy patients should look to avoid where possible.

  • • Heavy use of alcohol, or use of drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
  • • Sleep deprivation
  • • Missing doses of medication
  • • Outside drugs that may interfere with seizure medications (your doctor will speak to you about • these if you’re prescribed medication)

Treatment

Treatment for epilepsy and seizures varies depending on several individual factors, which you’ll discuss with a doctor. There are a few general goals of most epilepsy treatments, both for patients themselves and their close family members:

  • • Stopping or controlling seizures as much as possible.
  • • Learning the proper steps for First Aid and response to a seizure.
  • • Helping people who suffer from seizures to live as regular a life as possible.
  • • Finding the proper medications, and learning to take them in the right ways and at the right times.

If you or your child experience seizures, or if you notice other symptoms of epilepsy, speak to your doctor about the proper approach.

Our neurologists are trained specialists and work with your primary care physicians to develop a treatment plan personalized for you. We have access to the latest in imaging technology and our specialists are up to date on the most recent treatment options.

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Sources:

“About Epilepsy: The Basics.” Epilepsy Foundation. http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics

“Epilepsy Overview.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/guide/epilepsy-overview-facts

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