Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that occurs when the nerve cell electrical activity in the brain is disturbed.
More than two million people in the United States suffer from the condition that can cause temporary confusion, a staring spell, uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs, loss of consciousness/awareness or psychic symptoms.
While seizures are fairly common (one in 100 people will have one seizure in their lifetime), epilepsy is diagnosed after a person has at least two unprovoked seizures that were not caused by a known medical condition. Doctors typically classify seizures as either partial or generalized, depending on how the abnormal brain activity starts.
Partial seizures occur when abnormal activity starts in one area of the brain. They fall into two subcategories — simple partial and complex partial seizures. Simple partial seizures do not cause a person to lose consciousness, but can alter emotions or change the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound. They can also cause jerking and tingling or dizziness.
Complex partial seizures cause altered awareness and can cause loss of consciousness. They also can result in staring spells, hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles.
The second type of epilepsy is called generalized seizures. These appear to involve all areas of the brain and are broken into six subcategories — absence seizures, tonic seizures, clonic seizures, mylonic seizures, atonic seizures and tonic-clonic seizures. Each subcategory of generalized seizures result in a different type of symptom, such as loss of muscle control or twitching.
Only half of the people who have epilepsy have an identifiable cause. Their condition may be traced to factors including genetic influence, head trauma, brain conditions, infectious diseases, prenatal injuries or developmental disorders.
Certain risk factors may be involved in increasing the chance of epilepsy. Although the condition can occur at any age, epilepsy most commonly affects young children and adults older than 60. Additionally, family history, head injuries, stroke, other vascular diseases, dementia, brain infections and high-fever seizures in childhood are also risk factors.
Epilepsy is a very dangerous condition that should not be taken lightly. People suffering from a seizure are at risk of serious injuries due to falling, drowning or getting into a car accident while seizing.
Medical help should be sought if any of the following occurs: it's the first time one experiences a seizure, a seizure lasts more than five minutes, breathing or consciousness that doesn't return after the seizure stops or if a second seizure occurs immediately after the first.
Treatment options can vary, but the most important thing when deciding on a treatment option is figuring out exactly what type of seizures the patient is having. The physician will do a series of tests and labs, including an MRI and EEG, to determine the specific type. Different oral medications affect seizures differently, so depending on the type of seizure, the choice of medicine will be decided.
If medications do not work satisfactorily, a patient should be considered for nonmedical treatment, which includes surgery or alternative options such as Vagus Nerve Stimulation. VNS is a pacemaker-type device that sends electronic signals to the brain through the vagus nerve. In children, sometimes trying the Ketogenic diet, which is a high fat diet, can be a good treatment option.