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What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder causing a temporary electrical problem in the brain. It’s like a tiny lightning flash that causes the brain’s thinking to start to skip, like a damaged CD. This problem causes seizures (convulsions), changes in consciousness, or odd movements or behavior.

Epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition, but some types, such as seizures caused by brain damage, infections, or tumors, may go away after treatment of the cause.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Causes include brain disorders present at birth, head injuries, infections (meningitis, encephalitis), tumors, poisoning, and drug and alcohol abuse. It isn’t contagious but can run in families. Often, the cause is unknown.

What Are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?

Symptoms vary with the kind of epilepsy—partial (simple or complex) or generalized (absence, myoclonic, atonic, or tonic-clonic).

Some people stop what they’re doing, stare blankly, and aren’t aware of what’s happening. Other people lose consciousness, stiffen, twitch, and have uncontrollable jerky movements. They lose bladder control, become violent or angry, laugh for no reason, or make odd body movements. Deep sleep or feelings of confusion follow.

Before a seizure, some people may have warnings such as a tense feeling, bad smell, hearing a strange noise, or not seeing right.

How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?

The health care provider will make a diagnosis from a medical history and physical examination. The health care provider will check the brain’s electrical activity with a test called electroencephalography (EEG). The electroencephalogram tracing shows the electrical activity. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) may be done to look for a cause of the seizures. Positron emission tomography (PET) is a newer radiology test that shows brain activity in different areas of the brain. Blood tests may be done to check for other causes of seizures.

How Is Epilepsy Treated?

Antiepileptic drugs are the most common treatment to control seizures. Medicine is often changed or adjusted for better seizure control. Surgery may be used if drugs don’t help. Other newer treatment options are vagus nerve stimulation and special diets. An electrical device is placed in the shoulder to stimulate a cranial nerve. A high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet may help reduce certain seizures if other treatments don’t work.

Medicines can cause side effects, which the health care provider will explain.

When someone has a seizure, prevent injuries by cushioning the head, turning the person on their side, and taking away items that could cause injuries. Don’t hold the person down, force anything into the mouth, or shout or shake the person. Afterward, let the person rest or sleep if needed.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Epilepsy:

  • DO wear a medical alert bracelet or pendant that shows you have epilepsy.
  • DO check with your state about driving. Most states allow people with epilepsy to drive after being seizure-free for 1 year.
  • DO tell your health care provider if you have side effects from your medicine.
  • DO tell your health care provider if you have new symptoms.
  • DO try to reduce your stress and get adequate sleep.
  • DO keep a record of your seizures. Call your health care provider if the pattern or duration of seizures increases.
  • DO have blood tests to make sure that your medicine levels are in the proper range.
  • DON’T drink alcohol.
  • DON’T expose yourself to anything that triggered a seizure before.

Contact the following source:

  • Epilepsy Foundation of America
    Tel: (301) 459-3700
  • American Academy of Neurology

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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