What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy – A Neurological Brain Disorder

Epilepsy, the 4th most common neurological disorder in the United States, is recognized as a spectrum disorder because of its wide range of factors concerning causes, demographics, and treatments. Epilepsy has no age, gender, or ethnic boundaries and its prognosis varies from a lifelong existence to an unexplained cessation. Epilepsy can mean living a normal life with medications or it can be a very disruptive disease that causes high medical costs, loss of earnings, and reduced productivity.

Epilepsy is a neurological brain disorder that results in a patient having recurring seizures. A diagnosis of epilepsy is not made unless someone has had two or more unprovoked seizures within at least 24 hours. A seizure occurs when clusters of nerve cells, in the brain, signal quite rapidly. This explosion of neurons may happen at a rate of 500 times per second. Involuntary movements, sensations, emotions, and behaviors can all be the result of the abnormal activity in the brain during a seizure.

The cause of epilepsy is unknown for at least half of the people who have this disorder, but research of epilepsy has shown that there are genetic links to certain types of epilepsy. Mutations of genes have been discovered when infants and children are diagnosed with this disease. When epilepsy occurs in babies, it is possible that the disorder arose in infants at the moment of birth or in the delivery room. Another important finding about epilepsy in children is that a third of children with autism had treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Brain damage from other neurological disorders may result in the development of epilepsy. The seizures associated with epilepsy may stop if the brain disorder that caused epilepsy is treated successfully, however, there is no certainty that the seizures will completely go away. Some of the disorders that have been associated with epilepsy are: brain tumors, head trauma, alcoholism, strokes, and some infections.

Seizures are the big component in epilepsy so it is important to understand what factors trigger seizures. The triggers provoke the seizures but they do not actually cause epilepsy. Since alcoholism can be a primary condition that may cause epilepsy, it is important to recognize alcohol consumption or withdrawal as a trigger. It is not surprising that stress has been reported by epileptic patients to be the most common provocation of a seizure. Another trigger worth noting is sleep deprivation. Sleep disorders are powerful triggers because by treating them, epileptic seizures can be controlled. Someone who has epilepsy or a caretaker of an epileptic patient may want to limit or eliminate these seizure triggers for safety and health reasons.

There are two major kinds of seizures but there are many types of seizures within the two main categories which are focal and generalized. Approximately 60 percent of patients have focal seizures. A focal seizure originates from only one part of the brain and that specific area of the brain describes the seizure. Focal seizures have several characteristics with different physical outcomes. There is one type of focal seizure where the patient experiences motor, sensory, or psychic feelings. Another kind of focal seizure produces a change in consciousness which feels like a dreamlike encounter and auras that warn of an impending seizure.

The second kind of seizure is referred to as a generalized seizure. Unlike the focal seizure, the generalized seizure is the result of irregular neuron activity from both sides of the brain. The main elements of a generalized seizure involve loss of consciousness, falls, or muscle contractions.

It is so important to report symptoms of epilepsy to a physician so that treatment can be administered, and hopefully, seizures can be prevented.

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