Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain’s electrical system. Abnormal electrical impulses cause brief changes in movement, behavior, sensation, or awareness. These interruptions, known as seizures, may last from a few seconds to a few minutes. People who have had two or more seizures are considered to have epilepsy.
Epilepsy is best known for causing convulsions. But seizures can trigger a wide range of symptoms, from staring to falling to fumbling with clothes. Doctors divide seizures into several types depending on how the brain is affected. Each type has a distinct set of symptoms.
Types of seizures
Absence seizures are often described as staring spells. The person stops what he or she is doing and stares vacantly for a few seconds, then continues as if nothing happened. This type of seizure is more common in children and usually starts between the ages of 4 and 12. Some children experience up to 100 absence seizures in a day.
Generalized Tonic Clonic Seizures
Generalized tonic clonic seizures (formerly known as grand mal seizures) are the most easily recognized. They usually begin with a stiffening of the arms and legs, following by jerking motions. The convulsions last up to 3 minutes, after which the person may be tired and confused. This type of seizure involves abnormal electrical activity involving both sides of the brain.
In partial seizures, just one side of the brain is affected. Simple partial seizures may cause jerking motions or hallucinations, but the person often remains aware of what is happening. During complex partial seizures, people may wander, mumble, smack their lips, or fumble with their clothes. They appear to be conscious to observers, but are actually unaware of what they are doing.
Causes of Epilepsy
Epilepsy may result from anything that disrupts the brain’s natural circuitry, such as:
• Severe head injury
• Brain infection or disease
• Oxygen deprivation
In nearly two-thirds of people with epilepsy, a specific cause is never found.
Epilepsy and Pregnancy
In most cases, it is safe for women with epilepsy to become pregnant and start a family. More than 90% of babies born to women with epilepsy are healthy. However, it’s best to consult your doctor before getting pregnant. It may be necessary to adjust your anti-seizure medication. Some drugs appear to be less risky during pregnancy than others.
Epilepsy Safety Precautions
Because seizures often strike without warning, certain activities are dangerous for people with epilepsy. Losing consciousness while swimming or even taking a bath could be life-threatening. The same goes for many extreme sports, such as mountain climbing. Most states require a person with epilepsy to be seizure-free for a certain time before driving a car.
First Aid for Seizures
If you see someone having a seizure, take the following steps:
• Time the seizure with your watch.
• Clear the area of anything hard or sharp.
• Loosen anything at the neck that may impair breathing.
• Turn the person onto his or her side.
• Put something soft beneath the head.
• Do not place anything inside the mouth.
Call 911 if a seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, recurs, or the person is pregnant, injured, or diabetic.
Epilepsy can be treated by medication, ketogenic diet ( diet high in fat but low in carbs, see a dietician)and surgery.