What is Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that is characterized by recurrent seizures. Typically, these seizures are short-lived and consist of involuntary movement that may involve a part of the body (partial) or the entire body (generalized). However, seizures may be accompanied by loss of consciousness and bowel or bladder function control in some cases.
Seizures caused by Epilepsy occur because of excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. Different parts of the brain can be the site of such discharges. Because the location of these discharges in the brain varies, the associated seizures can look very different. Signs of seizures appear as a momentary lack of attention, uncontrollable muscle jerks, or uncontrollable convulsions. These seizures also vary in frequency – from several per day to once every few months or year.
It is important to note that one seizure does not mean epilepsy is present in an individual. Epilepsy itself is defined as having two more seizures without an underlying cause. The exact cause of epilepsy is unknown, though it is believed to be genetic in some instances. Other causes may include trauma or disease.
Signs & Symptoms of Epilepsy
As previously stated, the main sign of epilepsy is two or more seizures that are not caused by another underlying medical condition. These seizures vary based on where they occur and where they spread in the brain. Because seizures are not always visible, other temporary symptoms may be visible, such as:
- Loss of awareness or consciousness
- Loss of movement
- Reduction in or a loss of vision, hearing, and taste
- Unexplained mood swings
- Loss of other cognitive functions
How Epilepsy is Diagnosed & Treated
Diagnosis of epilepsy generally includes comprehensive testing to detect and measure abnormalities in an individual’s brainwaves. This testing will also help determine where seizures start in the brain. A standard diagnostic test is an Electroencephalogram (EEG). The EEG helps detect abnormalities in brainwaves by measuring electrical activity. In addition, other tests such as Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans may be used.
Seizures are typically controlled through oral medication, which is generally very effective for most individuals. However, other options also exist based on the severity of the case and include dietary changes, medical devices, and even surgery. The goal is to significantly reduce or eliminate seizures to stop the associated side effects.
Although there currently is no cure for epilepsy, once the diagnosis is made and treatment begins, most individuals can live a full life.