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epilepsyEpilepsy: Causes, Symptoms, Types, Stages and Treatments

Commonly asked questions about epilepsy:

What is Epilepsy?

It is an incurable disorder in which the brain’s nerve cell activity is disturbed, causing multiple seizures. This disorder can be acquired genetically, however, brain injury can be a cause as well.

Generally, a person is diagnosed after more than one seizure has occurred. Recurrent episodes of sensorial disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions can occur, which are associated with abnormal activities in the brain.

What are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?

Because the disorder is caused by abnormal activity in brain cells, seizures affect any process the brain coordinates. Symptoms include:

  • Temporary confusion
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Psychic symptoms

These symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. Generally, a patient tends to have the same type of seizure, and therefore the symptoms are similar from episode to episode.

What are the Types of Seizures?

Seizures are generally classified into two categories:

  • Focal seizures – seizures result in abnormal activities in just one area of the brain
  • Generalized seizures – seizures that involve all areas of the brain

Epilepsy patients typically experience generalized seizures, but this may vary from person to person, along with the severity of each epileptic seizure.

What are the Risk Factors of Epilepsy?

Scarring or underdeveloped areas of the brain present a higher risk for developing the disorder. The following risk factors can lead to such conditions:

  • Babies born small for their age, born with abnormal areas in the brain, or had seizures in their first month
  • Bleeding or abnormal blood vessels in the brain
  • Serious brain injury or lack of oxygen within the brain
  • Brain tumors
  • Stroke resulting from blockage of arteries
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Conditions with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Post-traumatic seizures
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autism
  • Long or repeated seizures (status epilepticus)
  • Use of illegal drugs
  • Mild head injuries

What is the Cause of Epilepsy?

There is no identifiable cause for the disorder, but it can be traced to various factors:

  • Genetic Influence – There are some cases where the disorder runs in a family, and it is therefore likely that there is a genetic influence
  • Head Trauma – Head trauma as a result of a car accident, or any other traumatic injury, has the potential to cause the disorder
  • Infectious Diseases – Such as meningitis, AIDS, and viral encephalitis
  • Prenatal Injury – Before birth, babies are sensitive to brain damage, which could be caused by several factors
  • Developmental Disorders – Autism and neurofibromatosis are two of the main disorders that have been identified as causes

What are the Types of Epilepsy?

Types of epilepsy are defined based on a unique combination of symptoms. They include:

  • Doose Syndrome – Myoclonic astatic epilepsy (MAE), also known as Doose Syndrome, is typically diagnosed in early childhood. Children will experience “drop” and “staring” seizures, which may become difficult to control.
  • Benign Rolandic Epilepsy – BRE affects children. Symptoms include twitching, numbness, or tingling of the child’s face or tongue which can interfere with speech and control of saliva.
  • Rasmussen’s Syndrome – RS appears to be an autoimmune process that causes one brain hemisphere to become inflamed and deteriorate. Seizures are often the first symptom to occur, but inflammation may be treated.
  • Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome – This syndrome is characterized by two or more types of seizures, mental retardation, and a low EEG pattern with slow spike-and-waves. Although this syndrome has no known cause, it is commonly found in children with brain development problems or acquired brain damage.

What Drugs are Used to Treat Epilepsy?

Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) are the main form of treatment. Up to 70% of patients are able to control their seizures with AEDs, according to EpilepsySociety.org. Some AEDs include:

  • Carbamazepine
  • Clobazam
  • Clonazepam
  • Eslicarbazepine acetate (Zebinix)
  • Ethosuximide
  • Gabapentin
  • Lacosamide (Vimpat)
  • Lamotrigine
  • Levetiracetam
  • Nitrazepam
  • Perampanel (Fycompa)
  • Piracetam (Nootropil)
  • Phenobarbital
  • Phenytoin (Epanutin)
  • Pregabalin
  • Primidone
  • Retigabine
  • Rufinamide
  • Sodium Valproate
  • Stiripentol
  • Tiagabine
  • Topiramate
  • Vigabatrin (Sabril)
  • Zonisamide (Zonegran

How Do I Prevent Epilepsy?

Common behaviors and factors that may trigger an epileptic seizure should be avoided. This can be accomplished by:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule
  • Knowing how to manage stress
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Taking all prescribed medication
  • Avoiding bright lights and other visual stimuli
  • Skipping TV or computers
  • Avoiding playing video games
  • Eating a healthy diet

Until more is known about the causes of the disorder, it is best to prevent seizures from happening and avoid things that can trigger them entirely.

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