What is epilepsy? What is a seizure?
Epilepsy is defined as a chronic neurological condition in which the individual is susceptible to several seizures.
A seizure is a sudden, temporary interruption of the normal electrical/chemical activity in the brain, resulting in a change in sensation, awareness or behavior. A seizure can range from a brief disruption of senses, brief stares, muscle spasms, or odd sensations to short periods of unconsciousness, to convulsions. Some people have just one type of seizure; others are susceptible to more than one.
Epilepsy is a complex condition and there are many types of seizures:
Partial seizures are seizures that occur in just one area of the brain. There are two main classifications for partial seizures:
Simple Partial Seizures
are associated with no impairment of consciousness.
Complex Partial Seizures
are associated with some impairment of consciousness.
Generalized seizures affect a wide area of the brain. There are several types of generalized seizures:
are generally associated with epilepsy. During a tonic-clonic seizure, the muscles contract and relax and the sufferer may fall down, become unconscious, and perhaps stop breathing.
are characterized by brief spells of unconsciousness lasting a few seconds. The eyes may stare blankly and twitching of the fingers or mouth may occur.
are characterized by a sudden loss of muscle strength during which the eyelids may droop, the head may nod, or a person may drop objects and/or fall to the ground.
are characterized by brief, shock-like jerks of muscle groups. Persons with or without epilepsy may experience a myoclonic seizure.
An acute seizure is defined as a bout of seizures or cluster of seizures, each lasting a short period of time. In between seizures, the patient regains consciousness.
A breakthrough seizure is defined as a bout of seizure activity experienced by a patient with epilepsy, on a stable regimen of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), who suffers intermittent and periodic episodes of markedly increased seizure activity, sometimes heralded by nonconvulsive symptoms. Although the cluster of seizures may differ among patients, for any individual patient the clusters of seizure activity is stereotypic and distinguishable from the other seizures suffered by that patient.
Causes of Epilepsy
Epilepsy is not a mental disorder. Epilepsy can be caused by anything that affects the brain, such as a stroke, brain trauma, a brain tumor, degenerative disease (such as Alzheimer's), or an infection (such as meningitis or encephalitis). Epilepsy can be genetically inherited. Sometimes, there is no cause at all.
Cause of Seizures
There are many different conditions that can cause seizures and seizure-like episodes.
- Isolated seizures, for example, can be caused by almost any condition that affects the brain, such as drug intoxication or withdrawal, renal failure, or a major disturbance in electrolytes or in glucose.
- Other things that have been identified as causes of seizures may include: head injury, lack of oxygen to the brain during birth, and lead poisoning.
Currently there is no known cure for epilepsy. However, antiepileptic drugs can help to control seizures in most people. These drugs do not actually "fix" the problems that cause seizures; they work by suppressing seizures. Before choosing an antiepileptic drug, it's important to do these two things: receive an accurate diagnosis of epilepsy and have an open discussion with your doctor about the pros and cons of the different drugs available.