Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that disrupts nerve cell activity in the brain, resulting in recurring seizures. The number of Americans with epilepsy is on the rise, with 3.4 million adults and children currently living with the disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Epileptic seizures are typically triggered by a combination of factors, including lack of sleep, illness or fever, stress, bright or flashing lights, caffeine, drugs and alcohol, certain medications, not eating well or having low blood sugar. There are about 30 types of seizures, which can be classified as either focal or generalized, based on how the abnormal brain activity begins.
Seizures that involve all areas of the brain are called generalized seizures, and they are often severe. These lead to blank staring, muscle stiffness, loss of muscle control, jerky muscle movements, quick limb twitching, body shaking, loss of bladder or bowel control, biting of the tongue and loss of consciousness.
Focal seizures result from abnormal activity in just one area of your brain. These are usually milder, and they can lead to alterations to the senses of taste, smell, sight, hearing, or touch; dizziness; tingling and twitching of limbs; unresponsiveness; or repetitive movements.
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Seizures are serious and should be treated with immediate medical care. Complications can occur, including injuries from falling down, drowning, car accidents, pregnancy complications, emotional health problems and sudden unexplained death.
If someone around you is experiencing a seizure, when jerking movements stop, roll the person on one side, place something soft under their head, and refrain from putting anything in their mouth or from restraining the person. Note the time that the seizure occurred and how long it lasted. Dial 911 and wait for help to arrive.
About 10 percent of people will experience a seizure at some point. At least two seizures are generally required before someone will be treated for epilepsy. Doctors will review symptoms and medical history, and perform a neurological exam to test for epilepsy. Several tests, such as a CT scan or MRI test, will help confirm the diagnosis. Doctors might also perform an electroencephalogram, in which electrodes are attached to your head and record brain activity.
In most cases, epilepsy has no identifiable cause. The disorder could be traced to genetics, head trauma, brain conditions, infections or developmental disorders. Certain factors can increase your risk of developing epilepsy. They include age, medical history, stroke and vascular diseases, dementia and infections.
Treatments for epilepsy include anti-seizure medications, vagus nerve stimulation and sometimes brain surgery. These treatments can control seizures for about 80 percent of people with epilepsy. Children with epilepsy can sometimes outgrow their condition, and many adults can stop taking medications after a few years without seizures.
If diagnosed with epilepsy, you can help control the condition by taking your prescribed medication, getting enough sleep, exercising, and wearing a medical alarm bracelet in case of emergency. Educate those around you so they can assist during a seizure.
Dr. Amjad Bukhari is with KentuckyOne Health Neurology Associates.