A neurological disorder that affects the nervous system, epilepsy is also known as ‘the seizure disorder.’ In fact, epilepsy is often diagnosed after a person has had 2-3 seizures that were not brought on by any known medical condition. A seizure refers to sudden high-voltage electrical activity in the brain, and it affects a person’s feelings or actions for a short span of time. Seizures can be so mild as to go unnoticed or be intensely disturbing in their ferocity. The cause of an epileptic seizure is not known. It may be the direct result of a brain injury or a heredity factor.
Anyone can develop epilepsy; it occurs across all ages and all races of people. Epilepsy is quite common, affecting 1 in every 120 adults in the US alone. Whether a person will be epileptic or not depends on his seizure threshold, (an individual’s resistance level to seizures). A low seizure threshold means the person is more prone to having seizures for no reason. Such a person can easily develop a seizure when an apparently mild outside event triggers it. A person with a high seizure threshold is likely to get a seizure due to a serious outside factor, like a head injury. This means that almost ANYONE CAN HAVE A SEIZURE IF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE RIGHT. Often, a seizure may not immediately follow an injury. It may take place after 6-10 months, though there is no known cause for this delay.
The causes of epilepsy can be classified into three groups. Each group is characterized by a different type of seizure.
Symptomatic epilepsy: In this kind of epilepsy, there is a known cause for the seizure. This may include a head injury, a stroke, or a scar on the brain. Infections like meningitis can also lead to an epileptic seizure. A scan often reveals the cause and treatment is started accordingly.
Idiopathic epilepsy: There is no known reason for this type of epileptic seizure, except a low seizure threshold. This person has no disabilities and leads a normal life. Response to treatment is fairly good among such patients.
Cryptogenic epilepsy: When a doctor rules out the previous two kinds of epilepsy, he or she may deduce that the seizure is cryptogenic. So, it is surmised that underlying physical reasons that need to be investigated are causing the seizures.
Making a diagnosis can be tricky because there are no obvious symptoms in epilepsy. The person having the seizure can remember little of what happens during that time. Therefore, it is helpful to get information from someone who has seen the seizure happening. Blood tests, EEG, CT scans, and MRI scans provide additional information.
New cases of epilepsy are most likely to occur in children during the first year of their lives. This tendency gradually declines until the child reaches 10 years, after which it stabilizes.
The people who are most vulnerable to an epileptic attack include:
-Babies with abnormal brain structures
-People who have suffered a bleeding into the brain
-People who have had a serious brain injury
-People with cerebral palsy
-People with mental handicaps
-Children who have had febrile seizures
-People with a family history of seizures
Around 70% of the people with epilepsy are treated with anti-epileptic drugs (AED’s). AED’s only prevent seizures; they do not cure epilepsy. The type of AED and the dosage needed depends on the type of seizure. Some people experience a decrease in the tendency towards seizures as they age. Sadly, there are people who never achieve control over their epilepsy in spite of receiving the most suitable treatment.