Epilepsy: What You Need to Know
Epilepsy is a serious neurological disorder with a variety of different causes and treatments. Almost everyone has heard of epilepsy, and since an estimated one percent of people have this condition, you might even know someone who is living with epilepsy. But this disorder is still poorly understood by the general public. If you want to know more about epilepsy, keep reading for an overview of the disorder.
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that involves seizures. Because of this, epilepsy is also sometimes called “seizure disorder.”
Seizures are caused by excessive electrical activity in the brain. Not everyone who experiences seizures has epilepsy, though. Sometimes injuries, illness, or other external factors can cause seizures, but these are not always considered epileptic seizures. To have epilepsy, a person must have recurring seizures that can’t be explained by a temporary external problem, such as low blood sugar.
There are a number of different types of seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures, which used to be known as grand mal seizures, are what most people think of when they hear the word “seizure.” These seizures involve shaking, stiffening, and loss of bodily control. Absence seizures, also called petit mal seizures, are another common type of seizure. They involve staring and repetitive movements like blinking.
Epilepsy can interfere with many different aspects of a person’s functioning. The possibility of having an unexpected seizure makes many ordinary activities, like driving or walking in a busy part of town, potentially dangerous. Many people with epilepsy find it difficult to live independently or have a strong social life because of their health limitations. However, not all cases of epilepsy are severe. Some people have only mild, infrequent seizures, while others have more severe seizures more often.
What Causes Epilepsy?
There are many different reasons a person might develop epilepsy. Sometimes it runs in families. However, scientists think that while genetics are part of the key to understanding epilepsy, they’re not the whole story.
Epilepsy can also be caused by various types of trauma or damage to the brain. Head injuries can make a person develop epilepsy. So can brain tumors, stroke, and diseases like meningitis that attack the brain. Babies are particularly vulnerable – any brain damage or injury that occurs in the womb can result in lifelong epilepsy.
Sometimes there’s no obvious reason a person has epilepsy. More research is needed to understand which factors contribute to the development of this condition.
What Are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?
Seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy. However, it’s not always obvious when someone is having a seizure. Not all seizures involve falling down and shaking – sometimes, a person having a seizure may simply look confused or spaced-out for a few seconds before returning to normal. To complicate matters, some people don’t remember having seizures after the fact.
If there’s any doubt about whether you or a loved one might have epilepsy, don’t wait and hope it goes away. Make a doctor’s appointment ASAP. A doctor can conduct tests, diagnose epilepsy, and help you figure out the next steps to take.
How Is Epilepsy Treated?
There are a number of pharmaceutical drugs on the market for epilepsy. However, not all these drugs work for everybody. People often have to try a number of them before they find one that reduces their seizures. However, once they find the right medication, many people report having significantly fewer seizures than before.
In extreme cases, surgery is another option. Sometimes doctors can reduce a person’s seizures by operating on the part of the brain that is causing the trouble.
Many people with epilepsy also find that a ketogenic diet – that is, a diet low in carbohydrates but high in protein and fat – helps them avoid having seizures. If you’re interested in trying a ketogenic diet, talk to your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you.