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What is Epilepsy?

By Richa Nakrani


Highlights

  • Mainly due to genetic disorder or brain injuries

  • Involves abnormal brain activity and behavior

  • There are several types of epilepsy

Introduction


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where abnormal brain activity results in recurrent seizures which are periods of abnormal behaviors and sensations which may lead to loss of consciousness or awareness. It is among the most common neurological disorders in the world, currently placing fourth. It can appear in any age group, ethnicity, and gender. Disruptions in the normal connections between nerve cells in the brain play a role in causing seizures. Examples of these disruptions include conditions such as a brain tumor, stroke, brain injury, central nervous system infection, or other underlying genetic factors. However, epilepsy is not a contagious condition. Therefore, it cannot be passed from one person to another.


Signs, Symptoms, & Behaviors


When people have had two or more seizures, they are diagnosed with epilepsy, but the type of seizures that occur vary among different people. There are two groups of seizures, including generalized seizures, which affect both sides of the brain, and focal seizures, also known as partial seizures, which affect just one side or area of the brain. Generalized seizures are further divided into two types of seizures, which are absence seizures and tonic-clonic seizures. Absence seizures result in symptoms such as blinking rapidly and staring at one place for several seconds whereas tonic-clonic seizures are classified by symptoms such as losing consciousness, falling to the ground, or having muscle jerks and spasms. Focal seizures are also divided into different types of seizures, including simple focal seizures, complex focal seizures, and secondary generalized seizures. Twitching and sensations such as a strange taste or smell are caused by simple focal seizures. Complex focal seizures can cause a person to become confused and dazed. For several minutes, this leads to an inability to respond to questions and directions from others. Lastly, secondary generalized seizures are different than the other types of seizures because they do not stay in one location. Instead, they start in one area of the brain and eventually spread to both sides of the brain. In other words, they result in a generalized seizure, preceded by a focal seizure. The length of the specific seizure can vary from person to person and can range from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.


Treatments


For the majority of people who have epilepsy, medications and surgery can control seizures well. Medications include nerve pain medications, sedatives, and anticonvulsants. Some drugs are more effective at controlling one type of seizure than another type. Treatments also vary for people because some may require a lifelong treatment while others may outgrow the condition overtime. Causes of epilepsy such as brain injury can be prevented by taking care of small things like stepping carefully, riding safely, and getting help right away if an injury occurs. Eating well, staying fit, and staying away from smoking can also reduce chances of stroke and heart disease which may contribute to epilepsy later in life.


References


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