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What is Epilepsy? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What is Epilepsy? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
  • Dec 12
  • Brain & Spine Care

Brief Overview

Derived from the Greek word epilambanein which literally translates to ‘a seizure’, an Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that results in recurring convulsive or non-convulsive seizures. Epilepsy is one of the most common disorders affecting the central nervous system and can cause brief lapses of attention, loss of consciousness, and even twitching of one’s arms and legs spasmodically. However, it needs to be reiterated that epilepsy is just a disorder and not a sign of mental illness or intellectual impairment. Last but not the least, having a seizure doesn’t usually mean that an individual is epileptic – as per neurologists, a seizure needs to occur at least couple of times and needs to be unprovoked if it has to be classified as an epileptic seizure

Causes

The brain, on an ordinary basis, releases millions of electrical signals throughout the body which controls all vital functions of our body. When there is a misfire or a sudden burst of these electrical signals, it can result in a seizure or epilepsy. It also begs to be mentioned that although epilepsy is not entirely age-specific – research has indicated that these problems start in childhood, with a second peak usually seen in people over 60. Furthermore, these problems might stay with the individual for the entirety of his lifetime. That being said, with problem medication and care, these seizures can be satisfactorily managed.

Although it’s claimed that it passed on genetically – as evident in a fair share of cases – the reality is that in a majority of the diagnosed cases, the specific cause for epileptic attacks remains a mystery. Thereon, there are numerous conditions/events that can trigger an epileptic attack ranging from:

  • Drug & alcohol abuse
  • Severe head injuries/trauma
  • Sudden oxygen deprivation to the brain
  • Catamenial epilepsy – in relation to a woman’s menstrual cycle
  • Intense loud music coupled with a dramatic flashing of lights
  • Abnormal hormonal changes
  • Strokes – the leading cause of epilepsy in adults over the age of 35.
  • Developmental disorders including autism & neurofibromatosis
  • Brain infections
  • Missed meals
  • Severe changes in temperature
  • Alzheimer’s disease and tumors
  • Stress coupled with lack of sleep
  • Meningitis

In addition, there are certain types of seizures whose causes remain unknown.

Symptoms

Symptoms of epileptic seizures can vary depending on the part of the brain which is affected. Epilepsy as such is not a single condition; it comprises of several types of seizures such as a Grand mal seizure, Absence seizure, Partial seizure, Myoclonic seizure, Focal seizure, Atonic Seizure etc. which can be convulsive, or non-convulsive in nature. Each type of seizure is usually associated with certain types of symptoms.

Additionally, a lot of individuals experience a warning sign known as an aura right before a seizure hits. This is usually accompanied by an unusual smell, taste, feeling, or visual effect. In that vein, possible symptoms include:

  • Whole body convulsions
  • Losing awareness and simply staring blankly into space
  • Collapsing to the ground
  • Muscle aches, stiffness or soreness

The consciousness level of an individual entirely depends on the nature of the seizure. Sometimes an individual can remain alert throughout the seizure and recollect what transpired while at other times, an individual might simply pass out and have no recollection whatsoever of what happened.

Treatment

Although living with epilepsy doesn’t comprise life expectancy – the chances are that if it’s not treated – the quality of life may seriously suffer. As mentioned before, epilepsy is not one condition and therefore, every epilepsy has to be properly diagnosed before identifying the treatment which needs to be administered. Treatment is usually preceded with a diagnosis which includes a detailed analysis of the individual’s medical history and several tests including a CT scan, MRI and blood tests. Episodes of previous epileptic attacks also need to be documented and presented to the consulting physician.

Most physicians usually recommended an antiepileptic drug therapy or anti-seizure medications which can control or prevent seizures from occurring with minimal adverse side effects. However, the type of seizure needs to be properly identified before an individual goes on medication as an incorrect drug can result in an increase in seizure activity. It has been reported that nearly 70 percent of epileptic individuals get treated if they regularly take their medicine.

Individuals suffering from complex seizures and unresponsive to medication are usually suggested epilepsy surgery as a treatment alternative. This surgery generally entails removing the part of the brain tissue responsible for causing seizures. Thereon, it’s been reported that nearly 80 percent of individuals become seizure-free or experience a significant improvement after surgery.

Furthermore, a special diet known as a ketogenic diet (high fat, low carbohydrate diet) can help in reducing or eliminating seizures, especially in children. There’s also a procedure – known as VNS or vagus nerve stimulation–which involves inserting a small electrical device inside the body that can help reduce or eliminate seizure activity

The Bottom Line

Epilepsy is a lifelong condition, but most people with it can continue leading full, happy, and productive lives with the right treatment.

About Fortis

With 56 hospitals across the nation and over 10,000 beds, Fortis Healthcare Limited is a leading integrated healthcare delivery service provider in India. For over 26 years, Fortis Hospitals have been committed to the cause of getting people back to their lives faster and stronger.

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