Epilepsy is a disorder that results from the surges in electrical signals inside the brain, causing recurring seizures. Seizure symptoms vary. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others have full-fledged convulsions.
About 2 in 100 people in the United States will experience an unprovoked seizure once in life. However, a solitary seizure doesn't mean you have epilepsy. At least two unprovoked seizures are generally required for an epilepsy diagnosis.
Even mild seizures may require treatment because they can be dangerous during activities such as driving or swimming. Treatment — which generally includes medications and sometimes surgery — usually eliminates or reduces the frequency and intensity of seizures. Many children with epilepsy even outgrow the condition with age.
Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in brain cells, seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. A seizure can produce:
Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. In most cases, a person with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode.
Doctors generally classify seizures as either focal or generalized, based on how the abnormal brain activity begins.
When to see a doctor
If you experience a seizure for the first time, seek medical advice.
Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half of those who have the condition. In the other half, the condition may be traced to various factors.
Certain factors may increase your risk of epilepsy.
Having a seizure at certain times can lead to circumstances that are dangerous to yourself or others.
Other life-threatening complications from epilepsy are uncommon, but do occur.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a specialist, like a neurologist or a doctor called an epileptologist, who specializes in treating epilepsy.
Because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For epilepsy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Also, it is important to start keeping a log of your seizures before you visit your doctor.
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor may use a number of tests to diagnose epilepsy, from neurological exams to imaging techniques like MRI scans.
Your doctor may also suggest tests to detect abnormalities within the brain. These include:
Treatments and drugs
Doctors generally start by treating epilepsy with medication. If that doesn't work, they may propose surgery or another type of treatment.
Finding the right medication and dosage can be complex. Your doctor likely will first prescribe a single drug at a relatively low dosage and may increase the dosage gradually until your seizures are well controlled.
All anti-seizure medications have some side effects. Mild side effects include:
More severe but rare side effects include:
To achieve the best seizure control possible with medication:
At least half of all people newly diagnosed with epilepsy will become seizure-free with their first medication. If anti-epileptic medications don't provide satisfactory results, your doctor may suggest surgery or other therapies.
If your seizures originate in a part of your brain that can't be removed, your doctor may recommend a different sort of surgery in which surgeons make a series of cuts in your brain. These cuts are designed to prevent seizures from spreading to other parts of the brain.
Although many people continue to need some medication to help prevent seizures after successful surgery, you may be able to take fewer drugs and reduce your dosages. In a small number of cases, surgery for epilepsy can cause complications such as permanently altering your cognitive abilities. Talk to your surgeon about his or her experience, success rates and complication rates with the procedure you're considering.
Functions of the brain
Different areas of the brain are responsible for different vital functions. ...
Vagus nerve stimulation
In vagus nerve stimulation, an implanted pulse generator and lead wire stimulate parts of your brain to stabilize the abnormal electrical activity....
Lifestyle and home remedies
Understanding your condition can help you control it.
In addition, make healthy life choices such as managing stress, limiting alcoholic beverages and avoiding cigarettes.
Coping and support
Uncontrolled seizures and their effect on your life may at times feel overwhelming or lead to depression. It's important not to let epilepsy constrain you. You can still live an active, social life. To help cope:
If your seizures are so severe that you can't work outside your home, there are still ways to feel productive and connected to people. These include:
Let people you work and live with know the correct way to handle a seizure in case they're with you when you have one. This includes:
Last Updated: 2011-04-28
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