Epilepsy: Symptoms and Treatment

Overview

Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which a person has unprovoked, recurrent seizures over time. Seizures are episodes of uncontrolled and abnormal firing of brain cells that may cause brief changes in movement, behavior, feeling, or awareness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that epilepsy affects 65 million people around the world. In the United States, it affects about 3.4 million people, including 3 million adults and 470,000 children. It occurs slightly more in men than in women.

There’s no once-and-for-all cure for epilepsy, but the disorder can be managed with medications and other strategies.

Causes

In about half the people with the condition, the exact cause of epilepsy is not known. In the other half, the condition may be traced to various factors, including:

  • Genetic influence

Researchers have linked some types of epilepsy to specific genes, which may make a person more sensitive to environmental conditions that trigger seizures.

  • Head trauma

Traumatic brain injury brought about by a car accident or other traumatic injury can cause epilepsy.

  • Brain conditions

Brain conditions such as brain tumors, strokes, dementia, transient ischemic attack (TIA), and abnormal blood vessels in the brain, can cause epilepsy.

can cause epilepsy.

  • Infectious diseases

Infectious diseases, such as meningitis, AIDS and viral encephalitis, can cause epilepsy.

  • Prenatal injury

Several factors, such as an infection in the mother, poor nutrition or oxygen deficiencies before a baby’s birth can damage his or her brain and result in epilepsy or cerebral palsy.

  • Developmental disorders

Epilepsy can sometimes be associated with developmental disorders, such as autism and neurofibromatosis

Symptoms

There are two types of seizure: partial seizures and general seizures. Symptoms differ from person to person and according to the type of seizure.

Focal (partial) seizures

Simple partial seizure:

  • alterations to sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing, or touch
  • tingling, dizziness and flashing lights
  • involuntary jerking of limbs

Complex partial seizures:

  • changing or losing awareness or consciousness
  • staring blankly
  • unresponsiveness
  • performing repetitive movements

Generalized seizures

Absence seizures

  • staring blankly
  • making repetitive movements like lip smacking or eye blinking
  • having a short loss of awareness.

Tonic seizures

  • having muscle stiffness.

Atonic seizures

  • losing muscle control
  • losing balance and falling down

Clonic seizures

  • making repeated, jerky muscle movements of the face, neck, and arms.

Myoclonic seizures

  • twitching the arms and legs.

Tonic-clonic seizures

  • stiffening of the body
  • shaking
  • loss of bladder or bowel control
  • biting of the tongue
  • loss of consciousness

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is based primarily on your symptoms that are described. Usually, the physical exam and neurological examination are normal between spells. An adult who experiences a seizure for the first time will be evaluated with a head scan and blood tests to look for chemical imbalances. Your doctor will order further tests including:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG).
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Functional MRI (fMRI).
  • Positron emission tomography (PET).
  • Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT).
  • Neuropsychological tests.

Along with your test results, your doctor may use a combination of analysis techniques to help pinpoint where in the brain seizures start:

  • Statistical parametric mapping (SPM).
  • Curry analysis.
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG).

Treatment

Doctors generally begin by treating epilepsy with medication. If medications don’t treat the condition, doctors may propose surgery or another type of treatment.

Medications

Anti-seizure medications, also called anti-epileptic medications, can reduce the number of seizures you have.

Surgery

With epilepsy surgery, the area of the brain that causes seizure activity can be removed or altered.

Therapies

Apart from medications and surgery, these potential therapies offer an alternative for treating epilepsy:

  • Vagus nerve stimulation.
  • Ketogenic diet.
  • Deep brain stimulation

Keywords: epilepsy, seizure.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.