What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disease that affects people of all ages. It is also known as seizure disorder as this disease is characterized by recurring, unpredictable seizures resulting from abnormal brain activity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 50 million people around the world suffer from epilepsy, which makes it one of the most common neurological disorders around the world.

Seizures are generally caused by an excessive electrical discharge in cells which can happen in any part of your brain. A seizure can range in severity from minor muscular twitches or attention deficits to severe and protracted convulsions. Additionally, the frequency of seizures might vary, ranging from fewer than one per year to multiple per day.

Considered a serious health concern, the risk can be mitigated if the disease is properly diagnosed and treated. However, there is no cure for it. Patients can only manage the symptoms with proper treatment.

Causes of Epilepsy

There are many causes of epilepsy but the exact cause of the disease remains unknown. Some of the most common causes of epilepsy include:

1. Genetic factors

Having a family history of epilepsy can increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Certain genetic mutations or inherited traits may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to seizures.

2. Brain injuries and trauma

Certain head injuries resulting from accidents, falls, or other trauma can damage the brain and increase the risk of epilepsy. This is particularly relevant for injuries that disrupt the normal functioning of the brain.

3. Brain tumors and conditions

Structural abnormalities in the brain, such as tumors, can lead to epileptic seizures. This happens because these abnormalities can disrupt the normal electrical activity of the brain.

4. Infections

Certain infections, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and other illnesses affect the brain and increase the risk of developing epilepsy.

5. Developmental disorders

Disorders that affect brain development, such as neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, and Down syndrome, may be associated with an increased risk of epilepsy.

6. Stroke and vascular conditions

Reduced blood flow to the brain, as seen in strokes or other vascular conditions, can lead to brain damage and subsequent epilepsy.

Key Facts About Epilepsy

Major Symptoms
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncontrollable moments
  • Staring spells
  • Automatisms
  • Psychological symptoms
  • Loss of bodily control
Necessary Health Tests
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Certain blood tests
Treatment
  • Antiepileptic Drugs (AEDs)
  • Surgery
  • Healthy diet
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
  • Lifestyle modifications

Symptoms of Epilepsy

Epilepsy symptoms vary depending on the type of seizures you get. But some of the common symptoms of epilepsy include:

1. Seizures

The main symptom of epilepsy is seizure which can manifest in different ways, including:

  • Generalized seizures: Involving the entire brain, leading to loss of consciousness and generalized muscle stiffening and jerking.
  • Focal (Partial) seizures: Originating in a specific area of the brain, resulting in localized symptoms such as twitching, numbness, or altered sensations.

2. Loss of consciousness

Many types of seizures involve a loss of consciousness, ranging from brief moments to more prolonged periods.

3. Uncontrollable moments

Convulsions or repetitive, uncontrollable movements of the arms and legs may occur during certain seizures.

4. Staring spells

Staring spells are periods when children “space out”. Some types of seizures can cause the person to start blankly into space, appearing unresponsive.

5. Automatisms

In focal seizures, individuals may exhibit automatic, repetitive movements such as lip-smacking, chewing, or fidgeting.

6. Psychological symptoms

You may experience signs that affect you mentally, including anxiety, memory loss, hallucinations, and fear.

7. Loss of bodily control

Loss of control over bodily functions, such as bowel or bladder control, may occur during some seizures.

Diagnosis of Epilepsy

The diagnosis of epilepsy typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional, which may involve the following:

1. Medical history

The healthcare provider will take a detailed medical history, including information about the individual’s symptoms, and the frequency and nature of seizures.

2. Clinical examination

A thorough neurological examination will be conducted to assess motor skills, reflexes, sensory function, and overall brain function.

3. Diagnostic tests

You may have to go undergo certain tests to know how if you have epilepsy or not.

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test records electrical activity in the brain and is a crucial tool for diagnosing epilepsy. Abnormal patterns or spikes in the EEG may indicate epilepsy.
  • Brain Imaging: Imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans may be performed to identify any structural abnormalities, tumors, or lesions in the brain that could be causing seizures.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests may be conducted to rule out metabolic or genetic conditions that could contribute to seizures.

Treatment of Epilepsy

There is no cure for epilepsy. The treatment of this disease aims to control seizures and improve the quality of life for patients. The treatment depends on factors such as the type of seizures, the underlying cause, overall health, and individual preferences. Here are common approaches to the treatment of epilepsy:

1. Antiepileptic Drugs (AEDs): The primary and most common treatment for epilepsy includes medications known as AEDs. These medicines help regulate electrical activity in the brain to prevent seizures.
2. Surgery: Doctors may perform surgery for some types of epilepsy. It majorly involves removing the part of the brain where seizures are happening.
3. Healthy diet: Your doctor may recommend a diet such as the ketogenic diet, which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
4. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS): It involves implanting a device that stimulates the vagus nerve to help control seizures. It may be considered for patients who do not respond well to medication.
5. Lifestyle modifications: Getting enough sleep, managing stress, and avoiding triggers such as specific foods or environmental factors are important to keep seizures in control.

 

Source: healthshots.com, Dr. Aditya Gupta

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