Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that results in recurrent seizures caused by disturbances in brain activity. Epilepsy may develop as a result of abnormal brain wiring, an imbalance in nerve signals, or changes in brain cells. In many cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown. Sometimes, however, its origin may be traced to genetic predisposition, head injury, tumor, stroke, certain diseases, or prenatal brain damage. Symptoms of epileptic seizures may vary and only individuals who have experienced two or more seizures are considered to have epilepsy. Although seizures may be mild, all forms of epilepsy should be treated, as seizures may put individuals in danger during certain activities.
Symptoms of Epilepsy
Epilepsy is caused by abnormal brain cell activity; therefore seizures can affect any activities carried out by the brain. Temporary confusion, loss of consciousness or awareness, and staring spells are some of the symptoms associated with having a seizure. Additional symptoms of an epileptic seizure may include:
- Uncontrollable jerky movements
- Muscle stiffening
- Loss of muscle control
- Loss of bladder control
- Biting of the tongue
Seizures that cause stiffening or loss of muscle control may cause an individual to collapse or fall. While the symptoms vary from patient to patient, recurring seizures usually take on the same set of symptoms in each individual.
Diagnosis of Epilepsy
Epilepsy is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of the patient's medical history and recurrent symptoms. A neurological exam is also performed to test mental function and motor skills, as well as the following diagnostic tests:
- CT scan
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- MRI scan
- PET scan
These tests may be used to further detect abnormal brain activity. Blood tests are also performed to check for infection, genetic conditions or other underlying illnesses that may cause seizures.
Treatment for Epilepsy
Epilepsy is commonly treated with anti-seizural medication. Medication is often effective at completely stopping seizures from occurring and many individuals can eventually discontinue medications and live a seizure-free life. Cases of epilepsy that do not respond to medication may be treated surgically. If the seizures are caused by a part of the brain not associated with major functions, the portion of the brain that is causing the seizures can be surgically removed.
Another option for treating epilepsy may include a vagus nerve stimulation procedure. During this procedure, a device called a vagus nerve stimulator is implanted underneath the skin of the chest, sending bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve to the brain, inhibiting seizures. Some patients suffering from epilepsy may also benefit from a ketogenic diet, which is high in fats and low in carbohydrates.