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What is Epilepsy?

When a person experiences disturbances in the normal electrical activity of the brain, which results in seizures or brief episodes of altered consciousness, this condition is termed as Epilepsy. It is very common neurological disorder, with about 50 million people worldwide estimated to be suffering from it at one time. It is usually that some divergent symptoms result in invoking the abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

It is an incurable condition, though with proper medications, one can successfully control it. Epilepsy can be classified under various types, and not every type lasts life-long. Some types are confined only to some stages of childhood. The classification of epilepsy can happen on the basis of their cause, observable manifestations of seizures, location in brain where the seizures originate, identifiable medical syndromes and the triggers resulting in the seizure.

Epilepsy Symptoms

The most common symptom of epilepsy is recurrent seizures. There are many types of seizures, but most broadly classified are -- Generalized tonic-clonic (or grand mal), where a person loses consciousness, falls down, stiffens in body and starts jerking uncontrollably. Second type is generalized absence (petit mal), where there is a brief loss of consciousness, but the person does not fall down.

No abnormal movements are seen and the person merely appears like he’s daydreaming. In simple partial seizure, the person is fully aware and experiences abnormal twitching movements in body parts (like head, legs, arms, hands, eyes etc) and might experience odd smells, sounds or tastes. Complex partial seizure is when a person experiences odd tastes, smells or déjà vu and a dream-like state follows. Lip smacking, grimacing or fidgeting might occur and this can be followed by generalized seizure.

Causes of Epilepsy

The cause of epilepsy is usually not clear in a person, but it is observed that at times, epilepsy runs in the family. Epilepsy is not a mental illness, it’s a neurological disorder. It is assumed that epilepsy may develop after damage or injury to the brain caused by a stroke, falls, infection, brain tumor or scarring from a brain injury.

Lead poisoning and substance abuse too have been observed to lead to epilepsy. At times, maternal injury, infection or systematic illness affects the developing brain of the fetus during the pregnancy and might lead to epilepsy.

A seizure can be caused by any of the Provocants leading to the abnormal neurological activity. These symptoms or Provocants can be like reading, hot water on head, hyperventilation, flashing or flickering lights (photosensitive epilepsy), being asleep, transition between sleep and wakefulness (hypogogia), tiredness and sleep deprivation, illness, constipation, menstruation, stress or anxiety, alcohol consumption etc.

Who's affected by epilepsy?

Every one in fifty people is prone to develop epilepsy at some time in their life. Although anyone can develop it, it is more likely to show up in the early childhood and after the age of 65. Twenty percent of the people develop epilepsy before the age of five, rest fifty percent develop it before coming to the age of 25 and increasing instances of epilepsy being developed in age groups above 60 are being noticed.

Epilepsy Treatment

One can perform an EEG, brain MRI, SPECT, PET and magneto encephalography in order to check for epilepsy. Since epilepsy cannot be prevented from developing, medications can be taken in order to reduce the attacks. Various drugs like carbamazepine (common brand name Tegretol), clobazam (Frisium), clonazepam (Klonopin), ethosuximide (Zarontin), felbamate (Felbatol), fosphenytoin (Cerebyx), gabapentin (Neurontin), lamotrigine (Lamictal), levetiracetam (Keppra), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), phenobarbital (Luminal), phenytoin (Dilantin), pregabalin (Lyrica), primidone (Mysoline), sodium valproate (Epilim), tiagabine (Gabitril), topiramate (Topamax), valproate semisodium (Depakote, Epival), valproic acid (Depakene, Convulex), vigabatrin (Sabril), and zonisamide (Zonegran) can be taken in order to control the recurrence of epileptic seizures. Avoiding the triggers or Provocants will help further in keeping a check on the seizures. In case of severe cases of epilepsy, brain surgery can be performed.

In mild cases, some people may experience complete remission of epileptic seizure when treated with anticonvulsant medications. In case this does not happen, an increase in the dose of medication would help.

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