Affecting more an estimated 50 million people around the world, epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder that makes individuals more susceptible to having recurrent seizures. Epileptic seizures are the result of abnormal activity of brain cells and they can affect persons of any age and race. Depending on the region of the brain that is affected, epileptic seizures may result in a wide range of behaviours, whether it is a full body convulsion or a blank stare.
A seizure may be caused by anything that interrupts the communication between the brain’s nerve cells. This may include a brain concussion, drug or alcohol withdrawal, high blood sugar, low blood sugar, or a high fever.
Ongoing research on epilepsy are throwing light on the changes that occur in the brain just before a person with epilepsy start to experience a seizure. There have been devices developed to predict the onset of a seizure and prevent it from starting by interrupting abnormal activity of brain cells.
Causes of Epilepsy
There are several possible causes of the neurological condition, including brain damage from injury or illness, strokes, tumours, mutated genes, and imbalance of neurotransmitters. Sometimes, a combination of these are at play. In many cases of epilepsy, doctors will be unable to find a cause.
For some of the cases where no known cause of the disease is discovered, their epilepsy might be a genetic form. While genetic testing is not obtainable yet for many kinds of epilepsy, it is known that the condition may be caused by one or more genes, or the way certain genes affect the brain. If one fact is certain, it is that the relationship between seizures and genes is complex.
About 30 percent of persons with epilepsy have a structural change in their brain that is responsible for the epileptic seizures. Some babies have been found to be born with such structural changes in the region of their brain that causes seizures. While the relationship between seizures and autism spectrum disorder is not clear, about 30 percent of children with the disorder may also have seizures.
In children and infants, seizures may be caused by infections, fever, and in rare cases, brain tumour. In new born children, seizures are often caused by maternal drug use, intracranial haemorrhage, inborn errors of metabolism, lack of oxygen during birth, brain malformations, and electrolyte problems such as low levels of blood magnesium, blood calcium, or blood sugar.
Both children and adults may suffer seizures as a result of head trauma, genetic factors, congenital conditions like neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, Angelman’s syndrome, and Down’s syndrome. In rare cases, progressive brain disease will result in seizures.
One of the common causes of epilepsy is infections of the brain. While medication would have been used to treat the initial infection, the brain may be left with scarring which results in seizures later. Epilepsy in middle aged persons is often caused by injuries, tumours, and strokes, with strokes being the most likely reason for new onset seizures in people over 65. Other brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease may also cause seizures.
Direction of Current Research
Scientists have been studying persons with epilepsy in the hope of coming up with new therapies and treatments to prevent or limit seizures. There is a huge focus on improving the options for patients who are resistant to the medications currently available and reducing the side effects of available epilepsy medications.
Types of Seizures
The type of seizure depends on what happens during the seizure, how much of the brain is affected, and what part of the brain is affected. Seizures are broadly categorised into partial and generalised seizures. Each of these categories is further divided into various types of seizures.
Partial or focal seizures happen on one side of the brain where one or more areas of that side of the brain are affected by abnormal electrical brain function. There are two types of focal seizures, including complex focal seizures and simple focal seizures.
Complex focal seizures happen in the temporal lobe, which is responsible for memory function and emotion. These types of seizures result in a loss of consciousness, but that does not necessarily imply the individual will become unconscious. Simple focal seizures may result in various symptoms depending on the part of the brain that is affected, however, muscles are more often affected. A person suffering a simple focal seizure does not lose consciousness.
Generalised seizures affect the two sides of the brain and involve loss of consciousness. Persons who suffer this type of seizure go into a postictal state or recovery state after the seizure, which may last for minutes or hours. Generalised seizures are categorised into myoclonic seizures, generalised tonic-clonic seizures or grand mal seizures, atonic seizures or drop attacks, febrile seizures, infantile spasms and absence seizures or petit mal seizures.
Diagnosis of Seizures
A seizure may be diagnosed with diagnostic tests and a physical exam. Examples of diagnostic tests that may be performed include lumbar puncture or spinal tap, CT or CAT scan, MRI, EEG, and blood tests.
Treatment of Seizures
Seizure management is aimed at decreasing, stopping, or controlling how often seizures occur without interfering with a person’s normal activities of daily living. Healthcare providers consider certain factors before deciding on the appropriate treatment. Such factors may include your preference, expectations for the course of the condition, your tolerance for certain therapies, procedures, or medicines, seizure type, medical history, overall health, and age.
Frequently Asked Questions About Epilepsy
Can epilepsy kill you?
What part of the brain is affected by epilepsy?
That depends on the type of epilepsy.
Can epilepsy cause long term memory loss?
While anticonvulsants reduce the frequency and severity of seizure, they may cause memory problems.
Can having seizures cause brain damage?
Yes, particularly when a patient suffers prolonged seizures.
Do seizures kill brain cells?
Yes, depending on the cause and type of epilepsy.
Find more detailed answers here.