Understanding Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder, one that affects the central nervous system, which is present in about 1 in every 26 people in the United States.  Epilepsy occurs when the nerve cell activity in the brain becomes disrupted.  This disruption can cause seizures, nervous system sensations, and sometimes loss of consciousness.

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Knowing how to identify a seizure or epilepsy is important because they can put you and others in danger.  The main dangers are falling, drowning and car accidents.  Falling during a seizure could lead to head trauma or broken bones.  If a seizure happens while you are swimming, it becomes a huge risk for drowning.  Statistically, epileptics are 15-19 times more likely to drown while swimming or bathing than anyone else.  If you have a seizure while driving, you become a danger to yourself and others.  Loss of control or awareness, can lead to life threatening accidents.  

During an epileptic seizure, symptoms can vary widely.  For some with the disorder, a seizure will invoke blank stares, while for others the seizure could cause twitching in the extremities.  A single seizure does not mean epilepsy, but if you have has at least two unprovoked seizures this could be the basis of an epilepsy diagnosis.  In general, a doctor should be consulted as even mild seizures could require treatment.  This is because of the danger seizures pose to you and others during normal daily activities like driving or swimming.  Surgical and pharmaceutical interventions are both used in other to control seizures, and in about 80% of people suffering from epilepsy.  For children who suffer from epileptic seizures, the condition may be something they grow out of with age.  

Symptoms:

• Temporary confusion

• Staring spell

• Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs

• Loss of consciousness or awareness

• Psychic symptoms (fear, anxiety, déjà vu)

Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in brain cells, the seizures can affect any activity that the brain coordinates. You can see some of these able.  For those with epilepsy, symptoms tend to be similar from episode to episode, or one seizure to another.  Seizures can be focal or generalized. 

When should you seek medical help from a doctor?

If any of the following are true, 

• This is your first seizure

• The seizure lasts more than five minutes.

• A second seizure follows immediately

• You have diabetes.

• You are pregnant.

• Breathing or consciousness doesn't return after the seizure stops

• You have a high fever

• You are suffering from heat exhaustion

• You injured yourself during the seizure

Causes

For about half of epileptics, epilepsy has no identifiable cause of the condition. For the other half of epileptics, their neurological disorder could be the cause of any of the following things:  

• Genetic: Some types of epilepsy, run in families.  This can be categorized by the type of seizure you experience or the part of the brain that is affected. 

• Head trauma: Epilepsy can be caused by head trauma like that which is a result of a car accident, bike crash, or any other traumatic injury to the head. 

• Brain conditions, like brain tumors or strokes

• Infectious disease, like HIV or encephalitis

• Prenatal injury: Brain damage before birth when babies are ultra-sensitive.  This could be the result of an infection, poor nutrition or oxygen deficiencies. This brain damage can result in epilepsy.

• Developmental disorders: Developmental disorders, such as autism and neurofibromatosis, have had a link to epilepsy and episodes of seizure.  

Risk factors

Certain factors may increase your risk of epilepsy, these are among them:

• Age: most common during early childhood and after age 60

• Family history

• Head injuries

• Stroke

• Vascular diseases

• Dementia

• Brain infections: Like meningitis

• Seizures in childhood