Epilepsy is a brain disorder, in which the cluster of nerve cells signal abnormally. The following article provides information about the types, causes, triggers, symptoms, and various treatment options available for this condition.
An epileptic seizure can be defined as the sudden change in the brain functioning, causing an altered behavior. During the episode, an affected person might experience a fall, uncontrolled movements of the body, twitching, drooling, and sometimes, even loss of bladder control. The seizure attack lasts for a few minutes, after which the person regains his sense and might feel very tired and dazed. It is estimated that in the US, one in every hundred people has experienced an epileptic attack or has been diagnosed with epilepsy.
There are four main types of seizures: generalized seizures, partial seizures, status epilepticus, and nonepileptic seizures.
Generalized Seizures: It affects both sides of the brain, and often results in the loss of consciousness. It is further divided into four categories: generalized tonic clonic, atonic, myoclonic, and absence.
Partial Seizures: It affects only a particular area on one side of the brain. It might later lead to a generalized seizure, i.e., affecting both the cerebral hemispheres of the brain. It is of two types, namely, simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures.
Status Epilepticus: Usually, seizures last for a few minutes. However, if they continue for a long time, or if they occur in series, it could be due to status epilepticus. Status epilepticus means a continuous or prolonged state of seizure.
Nonepileptic Seizures: These can change the behavior of the person for a short while, and bear a great resemblance to the epileptic seizures. However, the difference between them is that epileptic seizure is caused by electrical changes that occur in brain, while the other is not caused due to the abnormal brain functioning.
There are some warning signs that are experienced by a person before the attack. These include changes in senses of smell, taste, and hearing. Fear, headache, dizziness, nausea, and numbness are also some of the signs of an attack. However, some people might experience no such warning signals. Here is a list of the commonly experienced symptoms:
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty in hearing and smelling
- Visual difficulty
- Twitching and shaking
- Stiffening of the body
- Tongue biting and drooling
- Weakness and exhaustion
As aforementioned, such episodes occur due to abnormal functioning of the brain, however, its exact causes are still not known. Some studies suggest that the episodes could be caused due to head injuries, or in some cases, lack of adequate amount of oxygen during childbirth. Brain tumors, lead poisoning, meningitis, encephalitis, certain genetic conditions, and brain development problems before birth are also related to its occurrence. In the elderly, Alzheimer’s disease is a possible cause behind these seizures.
There are certain triggers, which may cause an attack in a person. Not taking the medication regularly as prescribed by the doctor, can trigger an attack. Some other triggers include changes in hormonal levels, stress and anxiety, photosensitivity, intake of drugs and alcohol, and altered sleep patterns.
To diagnose this condition, an electroencephalogram (EEG) is performed, which records the brain wave patterns. A CT scan or an MRI scan can also be conducted to identify the condition. Blood tests and the analysis of the symptoms are other ways to diagnose the causes.
Once the cause has been identified, the treatment is given accordingly. Although, there’s no cure, the various treatments prescribed by the doctors can help in preventing another seizure. For example, the anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), control and prevent seizures in seventy percent cases, however, they have no use in stopping a seizure, when it is actually happening.
In certain rare cases, where medicines are unable to control it, brain surgery is the next option. However, surgery can only be considered if the seizures are due to functional problems in a particular area of the brain.
Another treatment option is vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). The vagus nerve starts from the brain and goes towards the other body parts, and communicates messages between the two. In this treatment, an electrical device is implanted in the chest area, which continuously stimulates the vagus nerve and prevents the attack.
To prevent an attack, it is important to avoid the triggers, i.e., taking eight hours sleep everyday, avoiding stress, performing exercises regularly, refraining from drugs and alcohol, and the most important, taking medicines properly.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.