Epilepsy


Epilepsy is not a disorder in and of itself, it is a physical symptom of a neurological disorder that periodically produces disturbances in the normal electrical functioning of the brain. The main characteristics of epilepsy are sudden, brief, non-pain-inducing seizures that can vary in both their nature and intensity. However, the presence of a single seizure does not necessarily indicate the presence of epilepsy. Rather, epilepsy is diagnosed when an individual experiences repeated seizures that occur due to an unknown cause (idiosyncratic) or due to an underlying problem that cannot be resolved (symptomatic).

Epileptic seizures are classified as either partial or generalized and usually reduce in frequency and intensity, or disappear, with age.  Partial epileptic seizures start in one area of the brain and can either stay in this area or migrate to other areas of the brain.  Individuals who suffer from these types of seizures may lose consciousness and usually begin twitching in one area of the body.  The body area affected is determined by the region of the brain in which the seizure occurs.  Generalized seizures occur when there are electrical disturbances all over the brain at the same time.  The individual may look like they are daydreaming and have a glazed appearance, which is usually followed by fainting and, in some instances, jerking motions.  These seizures can last from seconds to minutes and vary in intensity.  Following a seizure, some individuals feel tired and some continue what they were doing before the seizure.

Epileptic seizures can be stimulated by a variety of different triggers. Each individual is affected by different stimuli and those that have the greatest effect will result in the production of the largest seizures. Some of the most common triggers include: sudden light changes or flashing strobe lights, abrupt changes in anti-epileptic medication, extreme stress, excessive alcohol consumption, nutritional deficiencies (vitamins and minerals), fever, and lack of sleep.

Epilepsy can be caused by many factors, which include: interruption of blood flow to the brain (may be the result of a stroke or brain tumour), neurological diseases that target and damage nerve cells in the brain, a head injury that causes scarring of brain tissue, high fever, and trauma during birth.  A neurologist will take all of these possible causes into account when conducting a medical history of the patient.  They will also perform medical tests, which can include an electroencephalogram (EEG), a computerized tomography (CT scan), and/or take a magnetic resonance image (MRI scan).  An EEG will measure electrical activity in the brain and can detect areas of the brain affected by seizures, while a CT or MRI scan will show bleeding or tissue abnormalities.

Treatment of epilepsy usually involves medications, but can include vagus nerve stimulation.  Vagus nerve stimulation involves sending electrical signals through the vagus nerve in the neck to the brain to help control seizures.  A ketogenic diet (high-fat diet) may also be employed to help reduce seizures.

Sources:

“Epilepsy.” Available on: http://kidshealth.org/teen/diseases_conditions/brain_nervous/epilepsy.html#
“Epilepsy Health Center.” Available on: http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/the-ketogenic-diet

 

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