How does the brain work?
The brain sends and receives trillions of chemical and electrical signals every day. The messages are sent throughout the body and some are kept within the brain. A seizure is a sudden rush of electrical activity in the brain. This electrical activity interrupts the normal functioning of the brain and in some cases the body. Epilepsy is a chronic disorder that causes recurrent and unprovoked seizures. These seizures may briefly affect the sufferers’s consciousness, movements and sensations. Epilepsy is fairly common with around 65 million people affected by it worldwide.
Why could you have a seizure?
There can be other things that prompt a seizure and these include: high fever, head trauma, very low blood sugar, alcohol withdrawal.
What does a seizure look like?
A seizure can look different from person to person and may not even be all that noticeable. The form a seizure depends relies on what kind of seizure it is. It can be a focal (partial) seizure (alterations to sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing, or touch, dizziness, tingling and twitching of limbs. It can also include staring blankly, unresponsiveness, and performing repetitive movements). But the seizure that everyone is more familiar with is the generalised seizure called a tonic-clonic seizure. They used to be called “grand mal seizures.” Symptoms include: stiffening of the body, shaking, loss of bladder or bowel control, biting of the tongue or loss of consciousness.
What triggers an epileptic seizure?
It is sometimes possible to identify things that can trigger a seizure. Factors may include:
- A lack of sleep
- Illness or fever
- Bright lights, flashing lights, or patterns
- Caffeine, alcohol, medicines, or drugs
- Skipping meals, overeating, or specific food ingredients
What causes epilepsy?
In six out of ten people with epilepsy, the cause can’t be determined. A few possibilities are:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Scarring on the brain after a brain injury (post-traumatic epilepsy)
- Serious illness or very high fever
- Stroke, (leading cause of epilepsy in people over age 35)
- Other vascular diseases
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Brain tumor or cyst
- Dementia or alzheimer’s disease
- Maternal drug use, prenatal injury, brain malformation, or lack of oxygen at birth
- Infectious diseases such as aids and meningitis
- Genetic or developmental disorders or neurological diseases
Epilepsy can develop at any age. Diagnosis usually occurs in early childhood or after age 60.
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
If you have a seizure or even just suspect you have had one, see your doctor as soon as possible. A seizure can be a symptom of a serious medical issue.
Your doctor will need your medical history and symptoms (make a note if you can) to make a diagnosis. The doctor will likely:
- Perform a neurological examination to test your motor abilities and mental functioning.
- Rule out other conditions that could cause epilepsy. Your doctor will probably order a complete blood count and chemistry of the blood.
- If that yields no results an Electroencephalogram (EEG) is the most common test used in diagnosing epilepsy.
- Imaging tests can reveal tumors and other abnormalities that can cause seizures. These tests might include: CT scans, MRIs, positron emission tomography (PET), single-photon emission computerized tomography.
Epilepsy is usually diagnosed if you have seizures for no apparent or reversible reason.
How is epilepsy treated?
Your treatment will depend on your health, severity of symptoms and how well you respond to therapy. Some treatment options include:
- Anti-epileptic (anticonvulsant, antiseizure) drugs
- Vagus nerve stimulator
- Ketogenic diet
- Brain surgery
New treatments being investigated:
- Deep brain stimulation
- A pacemaker-like device
- Minimally invasive surgeries and radiosurgery are also being investigated.