Epilepsy is the result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and the most common symptoms are sudden unusual behaviors, such as temporary confusion, staring and uncontrollable movements.
“It’s sort of an electrical storm, if you will,” says neurologist Arun Antony, M.D., director of Epilepsy at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “And although epilepsy is most common in children, it can develop at any point in a person’s life.”
The type of seizures that occur depend on what section of the brain is affected. “The most concerning symptom is convulsions, which are dangerous because they can lead to accidents, falls and fractures,” Dr. Antony says.
“But some people with epilepsy can have staring spells and short episodes of unresponsiveness. Sometimes there are abnormal movements or sensations that can last for one to three minutes. Seizures can present in a wide variety of ways.”
How Epilepsy Affects the Brain
Epileptic seizures themselves are often brief, but can produce ripple effects across the entire brain, hindering normal brain cell activity and even killing brain cells.
Usually brain damage from epileptic seizures occurs gradually over several years. But if someone has seizures that last longer than five minutes, damage can happen much faster—over weeks.
“It’s important to prevent seizures from persisting for more than a few minutes,” Dr. Antony says. “Those who experience prolonged seizures can have cognitive issues such as memory impairment or amnesia.”
How to Reduce Effects on the Brain
Dozens of different medications are now available to treat epilepsy, and individual patients often respond very differently to each. Combining those with other approaches, including special diets, neurostimulation devices or surgery, can help control how often epilepsy patients experience seizures and how severe they are. This, in turn, can decrease any resulting damage to the brain.
People with epilepsy may also benefit from extensive electroencephalogram (EEG) testing to measure electrical activity in the brain and treat seizures at the moment they occur.
“Many lifestyle changes can help control seizures by controlling triggers,” Dr. Antony explains.
Seizure triggers can include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Certain medications—particularly antidepressants, diphenhydramine, stimulants, tramadol and isoniazid, according to the National Institutes for Health.
“I always tell patients that controlling triggers is as good as adding a few more medications to their list,” Dr. Antony says. “Leading a healthy, normal, fulfilling life with epilepsy is not only possible, but even more likely when patients actively manage their seizures and follow their doctor’s guidance.”
Source: hackensackmeridianhealth.org, Arun Anthony M.D.