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Epilepsy


Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder causing an overload of electrical impulses in the brain. Epilepsy results in the sufferer experiencing seizures and a loss of consciousness. Infections, head injuries, brain tumours and problems with foetal development during pregnancy can lead to epilepsy. Associated words Brain, seizure, neurological, impulse, nerves, epileptic, unconscious
Epilepsy

In This Article
Watch the epilepsy video Causes of epilepsy
Symptoms of epilepsy Diagnosis of epilepsy
Related terms

                   

Did you know?
  • There are over 40 different types of seizures
  • 70% of people with epilepsy could stop their seizures with the right anti-epileptic drugs
  • 75 people are diagnosed with epilepsy every day
  • In the UK, over 450,000 people have epilepsy
  • 1 in 20 people will suffer a one-off epileptic seizure
  • The first anti-epileptic drug was introduced in 1912


Epilepsy is a symptom of a brain condition and not a condition in itself. There are a number of causes for epilepsy such as damage to the brain, strokes, brain tumours and cerebral palsy.

One third of epilepsy cases have no known cause and are referred to as 'idiopathic epilepsy'. Any damage to the brain disrupts the function of electrical impulses and neurotransmitter chemicals which can lead to seizures.

Other causes of epilepsy include:
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Problems during childbirth (such as oxygen starvation or a twisted umbilical cord)
  • Birth defects
  • Blows to the head
  • Genetic problems
Someone with epilepsy will find there are certain environments or substances which trigger a seizure such as:
  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • Alcohol (particularly after periods of 'binge drinking')
  • Recreational drug use (cocaine, ecstasy etc.)
  • Fever
  • Blinking or flashing lights/imagery
  • Menstruation (which triggers Catamenial epilepsy)
  • Pre-menstrual tension (PMT)


Repeated seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy and these are classified by how much of the brain is affected. 'Partial seizures' affect only a small part of the brain while 'Generalised seizures' affect all or most of the brain.

Partial seizures are grouped into two types: 'simple partial seizure' and 'complex partial seizure'. When a simple partial seizure occurs the person remains conscious whereas a complex partial seizure causes partial unconsciousness or complete loss of consciousness with no memory of the event.

Simple partial seizure symptoms include:
  • Changes to the way things appear (look, smell, taste and sound)
  • Déjà vu (a feeling that events have occurred before)
  • High emotion (fear, joy etc.)
  • Stiff muscles (particularly in the face, legs or arms)
  • Muscle twitching along one side of the body
Complex partial seizure symptoms include:
  • Lip smacking
  • Rubbing hands together
  • Making random verbal noises
  • Chewing
  • Swallowing
  • Moving arms about
  • Unresponsive to others
  • Memory loss of the event
Generalised seizures have six main types: absences, myoclonic jerks, clonic seizure, atonic seizure, tonic seizure and tonic-clonic seizure. While the pattern of seizure symptoms remain the same (known as epilepsy syndrome), people can experience any of these six types.

Absences – This occurs mainly in children whereby the child briefly loses awareness of their surroundings (typically 5-20 seconds). Absences can happen several times in one day and may be accompanied by lip smacking or eye fluttering as the child stares inattentively ahead.

Myoclonic jerks – This type of seizure lasts a split second and causes involuntary jerks or twitches of the upper body or legs. A person remains conscious during a seizure of this type.

Clonic seizure – Similar to the above but with a loss of consciousness and symptoms lasting up to two minutes.

Atonic seizure – Complete relaxation of the muscles occur during this seizure causing the individual to slump to the ground if standing.

Tonic seizure – The opposite to the above, this seizure causes muscle stiffness accompanied by balance problems which may cause the person to fall over.

Tonic-clonic seizure – A two stage seizure beginning with stiffness all over the body followed by twitching in the arms and legs. This seizure can last for 1-3 minutes with a loss of consciousness  and possible involuntary urination. This type of seizure is the most common and often referred to as an 'epileptic fit'.

People who suffer with epilepsy often have warning signs of an imminent seizure which is described as auras. The symptoms of which may include:
  • Strange smells or taste
  • Déjà vu
  • Feeling detached from surroundings
  • Anxiety
  • Strange bodily sensations
Acting on these auras gives the person time to alert others that a seizure is about to happen or gives them time to move into a safe position so as not to harm themselves. However, it will not prevent the seizure occurring.


There are many conditions which can cause a seizure and so epilepsy is a difficult condition to diagnose. In the first instance you should contact your GP who will then refer you to a neurology specialist.

As some seizures leave someone with no memory of what has just happened, answering questions about the symptoms experienced can prove difficult. If possible you may need to take someone with you who has seen the seizure occur and can describe what they saw.

The neuro-specialist will use two tests to determine the cause of your epilepsy and rule out any other serious underlying problems. The two test they will use are an Electroencephalogram (EEG) and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.

The first test (EEG) measures electrical activity in the brain and may involve using flashing lights. An MRI scan determines if there are any structural defects in the brain or if a brain tumour is present.


  • Fit
  • Epileptic
  • Brain
  • Neurological disorder
  • Conversion disorder
  • Spasms
  • Landau-Kleffner Syndrome
  • Rasmussen's Syndrome
  • AED


Therapies to consider
Acupressure Herbal Medicine Hypnotherapy
Naturopathy NLP


 

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