- What is Epilepsy?
- What Happens In Your Brain When You Have Epilepsy?
- What Causes Epilepsy?
- Symptoms of Epilepsy
- Focal Seizures
- Generalized Seizures
- What Are Seizure Triggers?
- Risk Factors
- People With Epilepsy
- Final Thought
Have you ever experienced a seizure or seen or know anyone that has before? Did you know that anyone can develop epilepsy? Epilepsy affects both males and females of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and ages. As part of Purple Day Epilepsy Awareness, we would like to highlight the essential information regarding epilepsy. Continue reading further to learn more.
WHAT IS EPILEPSY?
Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness. Seizure symptoms can vary widely. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs. Having a single seizure doesn’t mean you have epilepsy. At least two seizures without a known trigger (unprovoked seizures) that happen at least 24 hours apart are generally required for an epilepsy diagnosis.
WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR BRAIN WHEN YOU HAVE EPILEPSY?
The cells in your brain send messages to and receive messages from all areas of your body. These messages are transmitted via a continuous electrical impulse that travels from cell to cell. Epilepsy disrupts this rhythmic electrical impulse pattern. Instead, there are bursts of electrical energy — like an unpredictable lightning storm — between cells in one or more areas of your brain. This electrical disruption causes changes in your awareness (including loss of consciousness), sensations, emotions, and muscle movements.
WHAT CAUSES EPILEPSY?
Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half the people with the condition. In the other half, the condition may be traced to various factors, including:
- Genetic Influence: Some types of epilepsy, which are categorized by the type of seizure you experience or the part of the brain that is affected, run in families. In these cases, there’s likely a genetic influence.
- Head trauma: Head trauma as a result of a car accident or other traumatic injury can cause epilepsy.
- Brain abnormalities: Abnormalities in the brain, including brain tumors or vascular malformations such as arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and cavernous malformations, can cause epilepsy. Stroke is a leading cause of epilepsy in adults older than age 35.
- Infections: Meningitis, HIV, viral encephalitis, and some parasitic infections can cause epilepsy.
- Prenatal injury: Before birth, babies are sensitive to brain damage that could be caused by several factors, such as an infection in the mother, poor nutrition, or oxygen deficiencies. This brain damage can result in epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
- Developmental disorders: Epilepsy can sometimes be associated with developmental disorders, such as autism.
SYMPTOMS OF EPILEPSY
Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain, seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. Seizure signs and symptoms may include:
- Temporary confusion
- A staring spell
- Stiff muscles
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Psychological symptoms such as fear, anxiety, or deja vu
Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. In most cases, a person with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode. Doctors generally classify seizures as either focal or generalized, based on how and where the abnormal brain activity begins.
When seizures appear to result from abnormal activity in just one area of your brain, they’re called focal seizures. These seizures fall into two categories:
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness. Once called simple partial seizures, these seizures don’t cause a loss of consciousness. They may alter emotions or change the way things look, smell, feel, taste, or sound. Some people experience deja vu. This type of seizure may also result in involuntary jerking of one body part, such as an arm or leg, and spontaneous sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness, and flashing lights.
- Focal seizures with impaired awareness. Once called complex partial seizures, these seizures involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. This type of seizure may seem like being in a dream. During a focal seizure with impaired awareness, you may stare into space and not respond normally to your environment or perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing, or walking in circles.
Symptoms of focal seizures may be confused with other neurological disorders, such as migraine, narcolepsy, or mental illness. A thorough examination and testing are needed to distinguish epilepsy from other disorders.
Seizures that appear to involve all areas of the brain are called generalized seizures. Six types of generalized seizures exist.
- Absence Seizures: Absence seizures, previously known as petit mal seizures, typically occur in children. They’re characterized by staring into space with or without subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking and only last between 5-10 seconds. These seizures may occur in clusters, happening as often as 100 times per day, and cause a brief loss of awareness.
- Tonic Seizures: Tonic seizures cause stiff muscles and may affect consciousness. These seizures usually affect muscles in your back, arms, and legs and may cause you to fall to the ground.
- Atonic Seizures: Atonic seizures, also known as drop seizures, cause a loss of muscle control. Since this most often affects the legs, it often causes you to suddenly collapse or fall.
- Clonic Seizures: Clonic seizures are associated with repeated or rhythmic, jerking muscle movements. These seizures usually affect the neck, face, and arms.
- Myoclonic Seizures: Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden brief jerks or twitches and usually affect the upper body, arms, and legs.
- Tonic-clonic Seizures: Tonic-clonic seizures, previously known as grand mal seizures, are the most dramatic type of epileptic seizure. They can cause an abrupt loss of consciousness and body stiffening, twitching, and shaking. They sometimes cause loss of bladder control or biting your tongue.
WHAT ARE SEIZURE TRIGGERS?
Seizure triggers are events or something that happens before the start of your seizure. Commonly reported seizure triggers include:
- Sleep issues such as not sleeping well, not getting enough sleep, being overtired, disrupted sleep, and sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
- Alcohol use, alcohol withdrawal, recreational drug use.
- Hormonal changes or menstrual hormonal changes.
- Illness, fever.
- Flashing lights or patterns.
- Not eating healthy, balanced meals or drinking enough fluids; vitamin and mineral deficiencies, skipping meals.
- Physical overexertion.
- Specific foods (caffeine is a common trigger).
- Certain times of the day or night.
- Use of certain medications. Diphenhydramine, an ingredient in cold, allergy, and sleep over-the-counter products, is a reported trigger.
- Missed anti-seizure medication doses.
Certain factors may increase your risk of epilepsy:
- The onset of epilepsy is most common in children and older adults, but the condition can occur at any age.
- If you have a family history of epilepsy, you may be at an increased risk of developing a seizure disorder.
- Head injuries are responsible for some cases of epilepsy. You can reduce your risk by wearing a seat belt while riding in a car and by wearing a helmet while bicycling, skiing, riding a motorcycle, or engaging in other activities with a high risk of head injury.
- Stroke and other blood vessel (vascular) diseases can lead to brain damage that may trigger epilepsy. You can take several steps to reduce your risk of these diseases, including limiting your intake of alcohol and avoiding cigarettes, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
- Dementia can increase the risk of epilepsy in older adults.
- Infections such as meningitis, which causes inflammation in your brain or spinal cord, can increase your risk.
- High fevers in childhood can sometimes be associated with seizures. Children who have seizures due to high fevers generally won’t develop epilepsy. The risk of epilepsy increases if a child has a long fever-associated seizure, another nervous system condition, or a family history of epilepsy.
Technically, if you experience two or more seizures that weren’t caused by a known medical condition — for example, from alcohol withdrawal or low blood sugar — you’re considered to have epilepsy. Before making a diagnosis, your healthcare provider (or epilepsy specialist) will perform a physical exam, take your medical history, and may order blood work (to rule out other causes). They may ask about your symptoms during the seizure and conduct other tests, as well. Your healthcare provider will ask you or your family member (who’s witnessed your seizure) if you experienced any of the following during a seizure:
- Muscle jerks
- Muscle stiffness
- Loss of bowel or bladder control (you peed or pooped during the seizure)
- Change in breathing
- Skin color turned pale
- Had a blank stare
- Lost consciousness
- Had problems talking or understanding what was said to you
Other tests may include:
- Neurological Exam
- Blood Test
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- High-density EEG
- Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Functional MRI (fMRI)
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
- Single-Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT)
- Neuropsychological Tests
Anti-seizure medications can control seizures in about 60% to 70% of people with epilepsy. Anti-seizure medication treatment is individualized. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved more than 20 anti-seizure medications for treating epilepsy. Your healthcare provider may try one or more medications, doses of medications, or a combination of medications to find what works best to control your seizures. The choice of an anti-seizure medication depends on:
- Seizure type
- Your prior response to anti-seizure medications
- Other medical conditions you have
- The potential for interaction with other medications you take
- Side effects of the anti-seizure drug (if any)
- Your age
- General health
When medications fail to provide adequate control over seizures, surgery may be an option. With epilepsy surgery, a surgeon removes the area of your brain that’s causing seizures. Doctors usually perform surgery when tests show that:
- Your seizures originate in a small, well-defined area of your brain
- The area in your brain to be operated on doesn’t interfere with vital functions such as speech, language, motor function, vision, or hearing
For some types of epilepsy, minimally invasive approaches such as MRI-guided stereotactic laser ablation may provide effective treatment when an open procedure may be too risky.
Apart from medications and surgery, these potential therapies offer an alternative for treating epilepsy:
- Vagus nerve stimulation: In vagus nerve stimulation, doctors implant a device called a vagus nerve stimulator underneath the skin of your chest, similar to a heart pacemaker. Wires from the stimulator are connected to the vagus nerve in your neck.
- Ketogenic diet: Some children with epilepsy have been able to reduce their seizures by following a strict diet that’s high in fats and low in carbohydrates.
- Deep brain stimulation: In deep brain stimulation, surgeons implant electrodes into a specific part of your brain, typically your thalamus.
PEOPLE WITH EPILEPSY
- Joan of Arc
- Ludwig Van Beethoven
- Peter Tchaikovsky
- Edgar Allen Poe
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Harriet Tubman
- Vincent Van Gogh
- Albert Einstein
- Agatha Christie
- Neil Young
- Elton John
- Ian Curtis
- Lil Wayne
Epilepsy is a misunderstood condition that many people may not realize, there is more to epilepsy than having seizures. Side effects of medication, nausea, anxiety, depression, memory problems, headaches, body aches, cognitive delays, difficulty sleeping, low self-esteem, and isolation may all play a part in the overall impact of epilepsy. This is why it is important to raise awareness and support advanced medical research to improve treatment and cure. Above all else, this is why we must do our part in showing support for those who deal with epilepsy daily. What were your thoughts on this article? Was it helpful information? Leave your comments down below!