Epilepsy is a medical condition that causes seizures.
Seizures are short periods of abnormal electrical activity happening in the brain. They can cause dizziness, confusion, and loss of awareness.
About 1% of people have epilepsy. Epilepsy is a chronic condition, which means that it can last throughout someone’s life. Seizures vary in type and severity, but they all cause changes in the way your brain works. They are usually brief, but they can be long-lasting. For example, some seizures may last only a few seconds, while others can last for several minutes or even longer.
What Happens During a Seizure
During a seizure, a person may experience sensory changes such as seeing flashes of light or having strange sensations throughout his body; these are known as aura symptoms. Seizures can also cause muscle jerking or convulsions that usually last one to two minutes. The person may also lose consciousness briefly.
Seizures is not the same as convulsions. A convulsion is a seizure that causes violent muscle contraction and loss of consciousness. A seizure can happen in a few seconds to minutes. Some people may only have one seizure in their lives, but for others, seizures are frequent or even constant.
Causes and Diagnosis of Epilepsy
Epilepsy affects one out of every three people at some point in their lives. It can happen to both children and adults.
The cause of epilepsy is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by defects in brain cells or nerve fibers. This means that the brain cells or nerve fibers are not working properly.
Epilepsy is usually diagnosed by observing a person having a seizure and then taking a medical history from their parents, friends, and teachers. An electroencephalogram (EEG) test may also be done to confirm the diagnosis of epilepsy.
The diagnosis of epilepsy is when two or more seizures occur at different times in a person’s life. The severity of the condition will usually differ. Some people have a mild form of epilepsy, while others have severe seizures that can result in injury or death. Seizures can be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes.
Some cases of epilepsy are inherited from parents; other cases occur for no known reason. Most people with epilepsy are diagnosed before age 20, but some continue to have seizures into adulthood.
Researchers have identified more than 20 genes that appear to be linked to epilepsy. These genes are involved in the transmission of nerve signals, the formation and function of synapses, and the regulation of neurotransmitters. People with a family history of seizures or genetic disorders such as tuberous sclerosis may be more likely to develop epilepsy.
Causes of Epilepsy
According to research, the causes of epilepsy include:
- Injury to the brain from a stroke, trauma, or infection
- Brain tumors that press against areas of the brain involved in seizure control
- Abnormalities of the brain structure (such as malformations) that interfere with communication between different parts of the brain
- Birth defects that affect the brain, such as microcephaly or Dandy-Walker syndrome
- Developmental disorders such as autism or cerebral palsy that are associated with seizures
- Medication side effects (such as those from anti-seizure drugs)
- Brain damage during birth or infancy
- Brain abnormalities that were present at birth (congenital brain malformations)
Infants who are born with epilepsy can experience a wide range of signs and symptoms, depending on their age and the type of seizure they experience.
Common Types of Seizure in Babies
Some seizures are more common than others, but all seizures can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening to infants. The most common types of seizures in babies include:
- Partial seizures: Also known as petit mal seizures. These are brief, unprovoked episodes of abnormal behavior that generally last less than a minute. They can occur in the absence of any other symptoms or medical conditions.
- Tonic-clonic seizures: These are also known as “grand mal” seizures and involve a sudden loss of consciousness followed by convulsions or muscle contractions. They tend to occur in clusters and may be triggered by fever, stress, or hormonal changes (such as puberty). Grand mal seizures can last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes each.
- Atonic seizures: These involve loss of muscle tone, which causes one’s body parts to droop down or collapse; often, this occurs when a person is sleeping and wakes up with their mouth open or tongue hanging out like they’re gasping for air; another symptom is staring at something blankly with eyes rolled back into their head.
- Benign childhood epilepsy with centrotemporal spikes (BCECTS) syndrome: Children with this syndrome often have frequent seizures that cause them to fall asleep during playtime or daydreaming.
If your child is experiencing symptoms of epilepsy, it is important to continue monitoring. Keep a record of your child’s behavior changes since this information will be helpful when talking with your pediatrician or other health care provider. You can also ask around for epilepsy clinical trials you can enroll in.
When you talk with the health care provider, let them know what your child was doing when the seizure occurred, whether anything made it better or worse, and overall how it affected him or her. It may be difficult to describe what happened that you are actually seeing but try to remember as many details as you can.