Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes chronic seizures. Abnormal electrical impulses in the brain can lead to symptoms at various stages of life, and there is no cure. Some forms of treatment can help to control symptoms, depending upon the classification or type of seizures experienced. There are three characterizations of epileptic seizures, each displaying different symptoms: generalized, partial or focal and absence or petit mal.
Symptoms of Epilepsy
Symptoms of epilepsy vary, according to the type of seizure and portion of the body that is affected. There are over 40 different types of epilepsy, but symptoms tend to fall in one of the three categories:
- Generalized seizures - all areas of the brain are involved, and loss of consciousness, loss of urine and spastic movements can be expected. The patient should return to consciousness fairly quickly, but may be breathing heavily and appear confused for several moments.
- Partial seizures - only part of the brain is affected and symptoms vary according to which part of the brain is involved. Loss of consciousness does not usually occur, but instead the patient may be dazed or confused. Repetitive or spactic movements may occur, in accordance with the area of the brain that is experiencing unusual electrical activity.
- Absence seizures - normally occur during childhood and cause blank staring, repetitive blinking or small, jerky movements in other areas of the body. This type of seizure is usually very brief, but can occur repeatedly throughout a typical day.
Causes of Epilepsy
Epilepsy leads to seizures that are spontaneous and recurrent. Due to the vast number of triggers, reactions and classifications of epilipsy, there are a number of situations that can lead to symptoms. Following is a brief list of some things that may trigger a person with epilepsy to experience a seizure:
- Flashing lights
- Emotional stress
- Sleep deprivation
- Alcohol or drug withdrawals
- Certain types of infection
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Brain tumors
An epilepsy diagnosis is important in helping to determine proper treatment options. Generally, an evaluation aims to discover the cause of seizures based upon the patient's personal and family medical history, current use of medication and type of symptoms. There a number of questions and procedures that can help to determine a pinpointed diagnosis for epilepsy. Some or all of the following will likely be performed:
- Interview involving questions concerning the patient's seizures, such as what age they began, circumstances, triggers, physical feelings and success with prior treatments
- Physical and neurological examination including testing of muscle strength, reflexes, eyesight, hearing and sensations testing
- Measurement of electrical impulses in the brain with an EEG (electroencephalogram)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- Blood tests to help rule out certain causes or presence of other medical conditions
Treatment Options for Epilepsy
Since there is no cure for epilepsy, treatment is generally aimed at successfully managing the condition. The most common form of treatment is through the use of anticonvulsant medication, though many patients will still experience symptoms while on lifelong treatment with the drug. Different anticonvulsant medications should be researched, as some may cause significant side effects or hinder quality of life. There are other treatment options that can significantly lower the chance for seizures to occur, and these should be discussed with a professional:
- Surgery - usually reserved for patients with severe epilepsy and aimed at removal of the abnormality that causes symptoms.
- Dietary changes - the Ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate diet that may improve symptoms, especially in children.
- Electrical stimulation - vagus nerve stimulation or VNS may produce positive results.
- Therapy - providing awareness and methods to help avoid triggers and minimize symptoms.
- Seizure prediction devices - may help to prevent symptoms.
- Alternative therapy - acupuncture, vitamins, yoga or homeopathy may produce positive results.