Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures or periods of unusual behavior. During a seizure, there are abnormal bursts of neurons (cells in the brain) firing off electrical impulse, which in turn cause the nerve cell activity in the brain and body to become disrupted and start behaving strangely. At least two unprovoked seizures are generally required for an epilepsy diagnosis. Medical attention is required for epilepsy and treatment options usually include medications or surgery.
There are two main categories of epilepsy:
- idiopathic (or primary) epilepsy: No evident cause for epilepsy can be found, but there may be a family history of the condition, suggesting it may have been inherited
- symptomatic (or secondary) epilepsy: There is a known cause for a individual’s epilepsy
Seizure signs and symptoms may include:
- Temporary confusion
- Staring into blank space
- Uncontrollable twitching of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness
- Psychic symptoms
Symptoms of epilepsy vary depending on the type of seizure. Doctors generally classify seizures as either focal (part of the brain is affected) or generalized (all areas of the brain are affected), based on how the abnormal brain activity begins.
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness (simple partial seizures): Seizures that can alter emotions or change outlook on certain things by look, smell, taste or sound. They may also result in jerking or twitching of certain body parts.
- Focal dyscognitive seizures (complex partial seizures): Seizures that involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness as well as performance of repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing or walking in circles.
- Absence seizures: Seizures that involve staring into space of making subtle bodily movements such as eye blinking of lip smacking. These types of seizures most commonly occur in children.
- Tonic seizures: Seizures that cause stiffening of the muscles in the back, arms and legs.
- Atonic seizures: Seizures that involve loss of muscle control, resulting in sudden falls or collapses.
- Clonic seizures: Seizures that involve repetitive jerking or twitching movements. These seizures usually affect the neck, face and arms.
- Myoclonic seizures: Seizures that involve sudden brief jerks or twitches of the arms and legs.
- Tonic-clonic seizures: Seizures that cause loss of consciousness, stiffening of muscles, shaking and sometimes loss of bladder control.
Epilepsy can start at any age; however most often begins during childhood. Although there is not one specific reason why an individual develops the condition, there are factors that associate it with damage to the brain. Epilepsy may be caused by:
- Brain conditions (Brain tumors or strokes)
- Head trauma (Car accident or other traumatic injuries)
- Infectious diseases (AIDS, viral encephalitis)
- Genetic influence (Focal seizures, generalized seizures)
- Prenatal injury (Poor nutrition, infection to the mother, oxygen deprivation)
- Developmental disorders (Autism, neurofibromatosis)
Certain factors that are associated with the risk of developing epilepsy include:
- Age (most common during childhood and after age 60)
- Head injuries (car accident or other traumatic injuries)
- Seizures in childhood (triggered by high fevers)
- Stroke and other blood vessel diseases
- Brain infections (meningitis)
- Family history of epilepsy
Complications that can arise from epilepsy include:
- Possibility of falling and injuring the head or bones during an episode
- Possibility of drowning while swimming or bathing
- Automobile accidents (loss of control or awareness)
- Psychological or behavioral issues (depression, anxiety, suicide, difficulty learning)
- Permanent brain damage
- Pregnancy complications
Other more severe complications that can arise from epilepsy include the following:
- Status epilepticus: continuous seizure activity lasting for more than 5 minutes or having recurring seizures
- Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP)
Although there is no known method to prevent epilepsy, a proper diet, sleep, staying away from illegal drugs and alcohol as well as wearing protective gear when participating in contact sports or other physical activities can help reduce the possibility of triggering seizures in individuals suffering from epilepsy