What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where there are recurrent bursts of abnormal brain activity, causing seizures or periods of unusual behaviour, sensations and sometimes loss of awareness.

Causes of Seizures

Anyone can develop seizures including children.  It can occur after severe or repetitive head injury, brain tumour, stroke, brain infection (such as encephalitis) or after brain surgery.  Other causes include low blood sugar and anxiety attacks.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms vary widely depending on the severity and type of seizures.  The seizure may last from seconds to a few minutes and often stops without treatment.  Once the seizure is over, patients are often able to reorientate themselves and continue what they were doing before.  These symptoms include;

  • Temporary confusion
  • A staring spell
  • Uncontrollable jerky movements of the arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Flashes of light or experiencing strange smells
  • Psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety or deja vu
  • Some which depend on the type of seizure (see below)

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Having a single seizure doesn’t mean you have epilepsy. At least two unprovoked seizures more than 24 hours apart are generally required to have a diagnosis of epilepsy for which you may require treatment.  The diagnosis of epilepsy is a clinical one, based on a good and reliable history from the patient or an eyewitness of the epileptic event. These investigations may help define the epileptic syndrome and its possible causes;

  • The patterns of the seizures (based on a description or video of the actual event)
  • CT / MRI Brain scan (to exclude brain lesions such as aneurysm, tumour or haemangioma)
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
Image Epilepsy.com

Types of Seizures

Seizures are usually classified by where the abnormal electrical activity starts within the brain which is either focal (also known as partial) or generalised.   It may also be described as whether the person is aware of the seizure or whether there are movements associated with the seizures.

1. Focal seizures result from only 1 area of your brain and can be 2  categories;

a) Focal seizures with NO loss of consciousness (previously called simple partial seizures).  They may have these symptoms;

  • altered emotions or changes the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound
  • involuntary jerking of a body part such as the arm or leg
  • sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness and flashing lights

b) Focal seizures with impaired awareness (previously called complex partial seizures).  They may have these symptoms;

  • change or loss of consciousness or awareness
  • staring into space and not respond normally to their environment
  • performing repetitive movements such as hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles
Image Young Epilepsy

2. Generalized seizures involve all areas of the brain.  There are 6 types of generalized seizures;

a) Absence seizures (previously known as petit mal) often occur in children and are characterised by staring into space or subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking. These seizures may occur in clusters and cause a brief loss of awareness.

b) Tonic seizures cause stiffening of the muscles in your back, arms and legs and may cause you to fall or lose control of what you are doing

c) Atonic seizures (known as drop seizures) cause a loss of muscle control which may cause you to suddenly collapse or fall down

d) Clonic seizures are associated with repeated or rhythmic, jerking muscle movements usually affecting the neck, face and arms

e) Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden brief jerks or twitches of your arms and legs

f) Tonic-clonic seizures (previously known as grand mal seizures) are the most dramatic type of epileptic seizure and can cause an abrupt loss of consciousness, body stiffening and shaking with loss of bladder control and tongue biting.  The whole body becomes rigid and stiff for a few seconds (tonic phase) followed by jerky movements of the limbs (clonic phase).

Seizure Triggers

Certain things or situations can trigger a seizure in some people with epilepsy and these differ from person to person.  Try to avoid these trigger factors to reduce the risk of having a seizure;

  • Not taking your medication as directed by your doctor
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue 
  • Lack of sleep
  • Insufficient food intake
  • Stress
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Complications of Seizures

If you sense that you are about to have a seizure (such as feeling an aura), inform someone and sit or lie down.  Someone close to you or living with you should learn how to handle a situation when you have a Seizure Attack.  Having a seizure suddenly and unprepared can be dangerous to other people around you and to yourself such as;

  • Falling and hurting yourself
  • Risk of drowning if you are swimming or in a bathtub
  • Risk of a car accident if you are the driver

See a Neurologists if you suspect you have symptoms of seizures

Disclaimer. TELEME blog posts contains general information about health conditions and treatments. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. 

If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or other professional healthcare providers. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

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