What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder that is known for causing unprovoked, recurrent seizures. A seizure is a sudden rush of electrical activity in the brain, but there are two types of seizures: A generalized seizure, where the whole brain gets affected, and a Partial or Focal seizure where just one part of the brain gets affected.
It is difficult to recognize a mild seizure at the time because it can last a few seconds, during which you lack awareness, but strong seizures are pretty noticeable because they can cause spasms and uncontrollable muscle twitching which can last a few seconds to several minutes too at times. Some of the reasons why you might experience such seizures include:
- High fever
- Very low sugar level in the blood
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Head trauma
Epilepsy is a very common neurological disease that affects a fair population of people in the world. While just anyone can develop Epilepsy, it is most common in young children and older age groups, and also is more likely to happen to males than females. There is no certain cure for Epilepsy, but this disorder can be rightly managed with the help of an experienced professional who can recommend the right medication, strategies to control it, and how to take special care of people with Epilepsy.
What are the symptoms of Epilepsy?
While seizures are the most common form of symptoms of Epilepsy, but its symptoms usually differ from person to person and vary according to the type of seizure experienced.
When you experience a simple partial seizure, it does not involve a total loss of consciousness but some of its symptoms include:
– Tingling and twitching of limbs
– Alteration to a sense of smell, sight, taste, hearing, or touch.
Complex Partial Seizures
While experiencing complex partial seizures, a person suffers through a total loss of awareness or consciousness. Other than that, some other symptoms are:
– Staring blankly
– Performing repetitive movements, etc.
Generalized seizures have six types:
– Absence Seizures, or “petit mal seizures”, cause a blank stare, and repetitive movements. A short loss of awareness is also a symptom.
– Tonic Seizures, which cause muscle stiffness.
– Atonic Seizures lead to a significant loss of muscle control and can also result in you falling, out of the blue.
– Clonic Seizures include repetitive jerky muscle movements of the face, neck, and arms.
– Myoclonic Seizures result in spontaneous quick twitching of the arms and legs.
– Tonic-clonic Seizures, or “grand mal seizures”, include symptoms like stiffening of the body, loss of consciousness, continuous shaking, loss of bladder movements, etc.
What causes Epilepsy?
For roughly 6 out of 10 people suffering from epilepsy, the cause cannot be determined because a variety of reasons can cause seizures. Some of the possible causes of Epilepsy include:
- traumatic brain injury
- scarring on the brain after a brain injury (post-traumatic epilepsy)
- serious illness or very high fever
- stroke (a leading cause of epilepsy in people above 35 years of age)
- 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
Other than these possible reasons, hereditary plays a key role in some types of epilepsy too. This means, if you have a parent who is suffering from epilepsy, then this increases risks by 2 to 5 percent.
How to diagnose Epilepsy?
If you suspect that you’ve had seizures, then you should see a reputable doctor immediately. In many cases a seizure can be a symptom of a serious medical issue that you might be facing, hence, make sure to carry your medical history reports that will help your doctor determine which tests can be helpful for you. Most of the time a neurological examination is conducted to test your motor and mental functioning abilities.
For diagnosing Epilepsy, the first step is to rule out all other conditions that cause seizures, and your doctor might even recommend a complete blood count and chemistry of the blood to look for signs of any infectious diseases, liver and kidney functioning, and blood glucose levels.
The most common type of test used to diagnose Epilepsy is Electroencephalogram or EEG, where firstly, electrodes are attached to your scalp with a paste. After this, you might be asked to perform certain tasks while the electrodes will record the electrical activity in your brain. Whether you are having a seizure or not, changes in a normal brain wave pattern are very common in Epilepsy.
These imaging tests can reveal problems like tumors and any other abnormalities that can be the cause of seizures. These test often include:
– CT scan
– MRI test
– Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
– Single-Photon Emission Computerized Tomography
How is Epilepsy Treated?
Epilepsy is not treatable, but it is in-fact manageable with the help of the right medication and treatment plans that an experienced neurologist can offer based on the severity of your symptoms, your health, and how well you can respond to the ongoing therapy.
Some treatment options include:
– Anti-epileptic, or anti-seizure, drugs- With the help of these medicines you can reduce the number of seizures you have, and in some cases it might also eliminate the seizures. For positive results, it is best if the medication is used exactly as prescribed by the specialist.
– Ketogenic Diet- More half the people who are not able to respond to medication end up benefiting from this high fat, low carb diet.
– Vagus Nerve Stimulator- This is a device that electrically stimulates the nerves that run through your neck. They are surgically placed under the skin on the chest and can also help prevent seizures.
– Brain Surgery- This is the last option that a doctor may prescribe, but it includes removing or altering that area of the brain that causes seizure activities.
Epilepsy is indeed scary, but with the right treatment and the right doctor to assist you through it, you can conquer this too!