Epilepsy

Though Epilepsy is one of the most common of the diseases to affect men and women of all ages, yet in it’s subtler forms it is also the one most often overlooked. Though epilepsy can create violent episodes called seizures, epileptics are also usually able to lead a normal and productive life.

Epilepsy occurs when permanent changes in brain tissue cause the brain to be too excitable or jumpy. The brain sends out abnormal signals. This results in repeated, unpredictable seizures. (A single seizure that does not happen again is not epilepsy.)

What Is Epilepsy?

Epileptic Seizures happen due to the large electrical activity in the cranium (the bone structure that forms the head and borders and protects the brain). An epileptic is hit by a seizure suddenly any time and anywhere. Every individual has his own resistance to fight these seizures which is known as the seizure threshold. The minimum the seizure threshold, frequent are the seizure attacks and impacts. Seizures vary from person to person; during this attack behaves according to the kind of seizure.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy occurs when brain tissue is damaged, typically from either an injury or disease, causing the brain to send out abnormal signals. These abnormal signals cause in seizures. In certain cases, the cause of the seizures may not be from injury or disease, and can in fact remain a mystery.

The most common causes of epilepsy include:

  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Brain injury
  • Brain Infections
  • Birth defects affecting the brain
  • Brain injury that occurs during or near birth
  • Metabolism disorders present at birth
  • Brain tumor
  • Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants and amphetamines
  • Family history epilepsy.

Types of Epilepsy

It is very difficult to trace the exact cause of this disease. However, there there are generally three major categories or types of Epilepsy that medical professionals agree on:
  1. Symptomatic Epilepsy- the case of epilepsy in which the reasons behind the disease can be well known. The causes can be various such as head injuries, meningitis, brain stroke and any other brain infection etc. The knowledge of the causes leads to an adequate and appropriate drug medication which varies from person to person.
  2. Idiopathic Epilepsy – is the case when no lucid causes behind epilepsy seizures are revealed. Having a low seizure threshold is often deemed to be the only reason behind it. But, idiopathic epilepsy does respond well to its treatment by drugs.
  3. Cryptogenic Epilepsy- it is the most challenging kind of epilepsy for the doctors for no reasons to it are known and medicines too are not much effective.

Symptoms of Epilepsy

The lighter, less-violent seizures can result in numbness, dizziness, and plucking clothes, smacking lips, swallowing and wandering around. Atonic seizures lead to a fall due to unexpected loss of muscle control; strong jerks to the body and at times even loss of consciousness are involved in myoclonic seizures and the most dreadful Tonic-clonic seizures result in an unconscious and stiffened body and loss of oxygen due to irregular breathing.

Testing For Epilepsy

To perform a screen for epilepsy, a physician will perform a thorough physical and neurological exam, including a detailed look at the brain and nervous system. Tests performed may include:
  • An EEG (electroencephalogram)
  • Blood chemistry
  • Blood sugar
  • CBC (complete blood count)
  • Kidney function tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • Tests for infectious diseases
  • Head CT or MRI scan often done to find the cause and location of the problem in the brain.
People with epilepsy will often have abnormal electrical activity seen on this test. In some cases, the test may show the area in the brain where the seizures start. The brain may appear normal after a seizure or between seizures. To diagnose epilepsy the subject may need to wear an EEG recorder while performing everyday functions, sometimes for days or even weeks. In certain cases, subjects may need to stay in a hospital where brain activity as well as physical activity can be be monitored for several days.

Epilepsy Treatment

Treatment for epilepsy can range from lifestyle and diet alterations, to medication, to surgery, depending on the type and intensity of the epileptic seizures. If the seizures are due to a tumor, abnormal blood vessels, or bleeding in the brain, surgery to treat these causes will be the first step. Medication is frequently prescribed to prevent seizures, but side-effects can be prohibitive for some patients. Diet and lifestyle changes are often in conjunction with one or both of the above, and just as often alone, to help decrease the frequency and intensity of epileptic seizures.

Medication

Medication to prevent seizures, usually an oral medication known as an anticonvulsant, may help reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures. There are many variations of anticonvulsants, the type prescribed depends on the type of epilepsy. These medications are dose-sensitive, meaning a missed dose can result in an unexpected seizure. Epilepsy medications have been linked to birth defects in the children of epileptics. Women who have been prescribed anti-seizure medication who wish to become pregnant should tell their physician in advance in order to adjust or even suspend medications.

Surgery

Surgery to remove specific causes of seizures such as brain tumors, abnormal blood vessels, or to repair or remove damaged brain tissue may be a necessary treatment in certain cases. A vagus nerve stimulator (VNS), a device similar to a heart pacemaker that applies periodic electrical pulses to the brain in order to settle it into a rhythmic pattern which can help reduce the number of seizures is sometimes found to be an effective treatment for epilepsy. If this is the case, surgery will be required in order to place the VNS.

Diet and Lifestyle

Diet can have a significant effect on seizures, both positive and negative. For this reason, diet and lifestyle are often scrutinized closely , epileptics are placed on special diets to help prevent seizures. The most popular is the ketogenic diet. Because epileptics commonly have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acid DHA in their blood, a diet rich in Omega-3s, with foods like fish for example, are often recommended to compensate for this deficiency. A diet low in carbohydrates may also be helpful. Lifestyle choices affect the risk for a seizure in a person with epilepsy. Many of the following have been found to affect positively and negatively the symptoms of epilepsy:
  • Medications, vitamins, or supplements
  • Emotional stress
  • Illness, especially infection
  • Amount of sleep
  • Pregnancy
  • Skipping doses of epilepsy medications
  • Use of alcohol or other recreational drugs
Many epileptics make use of alternative and holistic therapies to control their symptoms. These may include biofeedback, acupuncture, and meditation, or herbal supplements such as Valerian. These methods, combined with a diet rich in Omega-3s, and the use of epilepsy medicines, have been found in certain cases, to adequately treat epilepsy symptoms enough to restore function and normalcy to an epileptic’s life.

How Does Epilepsy Affect You?

The more violent Epileptic seizures can be frightening to witness for those who are unfamiliar. Bystanders are often seized with concern and paralysis, as they have no idea what to do to help. If you happen to witness any kind of seizure, whether the at home with loved ones, or in public among strangers, it is your duty to help. The best thing you can do for someone who is suffering a seizure is attempt to prevent them from injuring themselves. It is best not to try to prevent them from biting their tongue as you may become injured yourself in the process. But you can place something soft, such as a coat or a bag, under and around their head to prevent them from striking it against the ground, remove any objects that may be struck and cause injury, and call an ambulance if a stranger, or rush your loved one to a hospital.

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