Epilepsy and Seizures
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system in which nerve cell activity in the brain becomes disrupted causing recurrent and unprovoked seizures. It is estimated that 3 million Americans currently live with epilepsy and 1 in 26 Americans will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime.
What are Epileptic Seizures?
Epileptic seizures can be caused by abnormal activity in one area of the brain or abnormal activity in all areas of the brain. It is important to note that seizure symptoms vary depending on the individual and the type of seizure.
Seizures caused by abnormal activity in one area of the brain:
- Focal seizure without loss of consciousness– an individual does not lose consciousness and can experience altered emotions, involuntary jerking of body parts, and a change in the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound. Sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness, and flashing lights may also occur.
- Focal dyscognitive seizures– an individual experiences a change in awareness or loss of consciousness. During this type of seizure, an individual may stare into space and not respond normally to their environment. They may also perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles.
Seizures caused by abnormal activity in all areas of the brain are referred to as generalized seizures. There are six forms of generalized seizures:
- Absence seizures- often occur in children and are characterized by staring into space or subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking. Absence seizures may occur singly or in clusters, and cause a brief loss of awareness.
- Tonic seizures- seizures that cause a stiffening of the muscles that usually affect the muscles in the back, arms, and legs, and may cause an individual to fall to the ground during the seizure.
- Atonic seizures– also referred to as drop seizures, cause an individual to lose muscle control causing the individual to suddenly collapse.
- Clonic seizures- are characterized by repeated, rhythmic, jerking, muscle movements that typically affect the neck, face and arms.
- Myoclonic seizures- are characterized as sudden and brief jerks or twitches of the arms and legs.
- Tonic-clonic seizures are the most detrimental type of epileptic seizure. During this type of seizure, an individual can abruptly lose consciousness, and experience body stiffening, shaking, and sometimes loss of bladder control. Due to loss of consciousness and body stiffening, tonic-clonic seizures can cause an individual to bite their tongue.
What Causes Epilepsy?
Currently, there is no clear cause of epilepsy. Some researchers, however, believe that epilepsy may have a genetic cause. Identified factors that contribute to seizures and epilepsy include:
- Brain malformation
- Oxygen deprivation during birth
- Low blood sugar
- High levels of blood calcium
- High levels of blood magnesium
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Metabolism abnormalities
- Intracranial hemorrhages
- Maternal drug use
- High fever
- Brain tumors
- Down’s syndrome
- Angelman’s syndrome
- Tuberous sclerosis
- Progressive brain disease
- Head trauma
- Alzheimer’s disease
How is Epilepsy Treated?
While epilepsy is not curable, it is treatable. Treatments for epilepsy may include:
- Ketogenic diet- a strict diet that’s high in fats and low in carbohydrates.
- Anti-epileptic medication– anti-seizure medication, or anti-epileptic medication.
- Vagus nerve stimulation- in a vagus nerve stimulation procedure, a device is implanted underneath the skin of the chest that is connected to the vagus nerve in the neck. The stimulator sends bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve and the brain. This device has been shown to reduce seizures by 20 to 40 percent.
With proper treatment, many individuals with epilepsy can lead a full and independent life. If you or someone you know are living with epilepsy and would like to be evaluated by our staff to discuss the latest treatment options, call Kentucky Neurology and Rehab and schedule an appointment.