Epilepsy, also known as a seizure disorder, is a neurological disorder producing brief disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain that temporarily affects a person’s consciousness, bodily movements and/or sensations, while creating long term effects on the lifestyle of individuals with epilepsy.
Having one seizure does not mean you have epilepsy since seizures can occur for multiple reasons. Some causes of seizures could be:
- High fever
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Brain tumor
- Low blood sugar
- Head trauma
Even with all these possibilities, approximately 70% of people with epilepsy are idiopathic. In other words, they don’t know why they are having seizures.
In 2014, the International League Against Epilepsy redefined epilepsy. Per their specifications, someone has epilepsy if one of the following conditions is met;
- At least two unprovoked (or reflex) seizures occurring greater than 24 hours apart
- One unprovoked (or reflex) seizure and a probability of further seizures similar to the general recurrence risk (at least 60%) after two unprovoked seizures, occurring over the next 10 years
- Diagnosis of an epilepsy syndrome
- Epilepsy is considered to be resolved for individuals who had an age-dependent epilepsy syndrome but are now past the applicable age or those who have remained seizure-free for the last 10 years, with no seizure medicines for the last 5 years
For a more complete description, read this.
Did you know?
- 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy.
- Every 4 minutes someone is diagnosed with epilepsy.
- 1 in 50 children have epilepsy.
- 1 in 10 people will have a seizure at some time in their life.
- Over 40 types of seizure syndromes exist.
- Epilepsy does not discriminate…it affects people of any race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, or geographic location.
- Many famous people including Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Agatha Christie, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great had epilepsy. For a more complete list, go here.
- Pets can have epilepsy!
- Epilepsy is more common than multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy combined.
- Each year, more people die from epilepsy-related causes than from breast cancer or from drunk driving.
- According to the National Institute of Health, in 2011, epilepsy research received only $152 million in federal funding which was 20 times less than the amount for AIDS and 35 times less than the amount for cancer.
Seizures are either generalized or partial. Generalized seizures encompass the whole brain and body whereas partial seizures are limited to one portion of the brain (e.g. the temporal lobe.) Partial seizures can become generalized seizures. Although there are 40 types of seizures and seizure syndromes, the most common types of seizures are:
Tonic-Clonic – Formerly known as grand mal, these seizures are what people typically attribute with epilepsy. A stiffening of the muscles followed by muscle spasms will disable a person temporarily. Convulsions typically last 2-5 minutes associated with a loss of consciousness, shallow breathing, and perhaps incontinence.
Absence – A brief lapse of awareness accompanied by a blank stare. Absence seizures typically last a few seconds, but can occur several times a day. Absence seizures are often confused with daydreaming.
Simple partial – Full awareness is maintained while experiencing temporary rhythmic, sensory or psychic symptoms including, but not limited to, isolated twitching in the arms or legs, tingling, weakness, abnormal sounds or tastes, hallucinations, or an intense feeling of fear or anxiety.
Complex partial – Awareness and responsiveness are impaired during a complex partial seizure. Repetitive, purposeless movements such as walking aimlessly, picking at one’s clothes, mumbling, and lip smacking are just a few examples of what can occur during a complex partial seizure. Due to these automatisms and lack of response, complex partial seizures can be confused with drunkenness or aggressive behavior.
Epilepsy and the reasons behind it are elusive which can make it hard to treat. With today’s medical treatments, approximately 50% of people get full control of their seizures while another 30% get partial control. New medications and treatment options are being made available so that the remaining 20% will hopefully get control as well.
The most common treatment option is medication. There are currently over 25 anti-epileptic medications on the market with new medications in trials all the time. This doesn’t mean there are 25 options for someone recently diagnosed as some medications work better with certain types of seizures than others.
Other treatment options include the ketogenic diet, the vagus nerve stimulator, the responsive neuropace stimulator, cannabidiol, and brain surgery. Additional resources such as canine companions, motion sensing devices, helmets, and seizure diaries can help with treatment and improve the lifestyle of an individual with epilepsy.
The most important thing when witnessing a seizure is not to panic. Remain calm, track the time, document seizure activity, and help the individual as much as you can.
For tonic-clonic seizures:
- Lay the person on their side.
- Put something under their head to prevent injury.
- Protect them from possible hazards.
- Remain with them until awareness is fully regained.
For complex-partial seizures:
- Do not restrain them.
- Protect them from possible hazards (e.g. walking into traffic).
- Remain with them until awareness is fully regained.
More important, what NOT to do:
- Do not put anything in a person’s mouth–you will actually harm them or yourself more than you will help.
- Do not attempt to give oral medications, food, or drink during a seizure.
- Do not hold down or restrain in any way.
Click here for an Epilepsy First Aid card and other resources.