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Causes and Treatment of Epilepsy

Updated on February 24, 2015

It is estimated 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy. This indicates this disease affects majority of people.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder ranked as the fourth most common disorder in this category. This condition affects the brain causing frequent seizures.

Epilepsy is described my MedicineNet as “a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain sometimes signal abnormally causing strong sensations, emotions, and behavior, or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation
Transcranial magnetic stimulation | Source

The most common symptom of epilepsy is repeated seizures. The seizures are unprovoked thereby meaning they tend to happen unexpectedly. Nevertheless, not all people who have seizures as a symptom imply they have epilepsy.

NHS notes, “The cells in the brain, known as neurons, communicate with each other using electrical impulses. During a seizure, the electrical impulses are disrupted, which can cause the brain and body to behave strangely.”

The severity of seizures differs from one person to another depending on the size of the brain affected. The seizures not only happen when a person is awake but also when he is asleep.

Types of seizures

There are two types of seizures:

Partial Seizures

Also known as local or focal seizures, partial seizures start at a specific location or part of the brain. They only affect a small part of the brain.

Generalized seizures

These types of seizures start at different parts of the brain at the same time or once.

There are seizures which do not fit into any of the above two types of seizures. These seizures are grouped as unclassified seizures.

Epileptic seizure
Epileptic seizure | Source

Classification of seizures

Epilepsy is categorized into three types:

Symptomatic epilepsy

In this type of epilepsy the cause is known as the symptoms indicate damage to the brain. There is an underlying problem such as metablic disorder, tumor or head injury.

Cryptogenic epilepsy

The cause of the epilepsy is not known through there is a likelihood there was damage to the brain, for example, when a person has learning difficulties.

Idiopathic epilepsy

No apparent cause of the epilepsy is known even despite several investigations or diagnosis. It is not known what caused the epilepsy.

Causes of epilepsy

Epilepsy can be caused by any of the following:

  • Disease/illness
  • Poisoning
  • Brain tumors
  • Abnormal brain development
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Heart attack
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Prenatal injury
  • Head injury

There are some situations which can trigger seizures such as lack of sleep, consumption of alcohol, stroke or as stated by MedicineNet, “human changes associated with the menstrual cycle.”

Diagnosis and Treatment of Epilepsy

A person is not diagnosed until he/she has had more than one seizure. The seizures should not have been caused by any known medical condition such as low blood sugar.

Epilepsy Foundation is quick to note, “The seizures in epilepsy may be related to a brain injury or a family tendency, but often the cause is completely unknown. The word “epilepsy” does not indicate anything about the cause of the person’s seizures or their severity.”

Most cases of epilepsy are diagnosed when the patient describes about his/her seizures to the neurologist or GP. Scans may be used by on their own they are entirely very useful. Some of the scans include: Electroencephalogram (EEG) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Epilepsy has no cure. The medicines used, known as anti-epileptic drugs (AEDS) are used to control the seizures.

Primary central nervous system lymphoma
Primary central nervous system lymphoma | Source

In addition to AEDS used as a form of treatment to control the seizures, surgery may be recommended to remove an area of the brain affected or an electrical device may be used in order to control the seizures.

According to NHS, treatment is not necessary if the seizures last for a short time and are not intrusive.

Epilepsy can be controlled by avoiding triggers which induce seizures such as lack of sleep (sleep deprivation) and alcohol consumption.

It should be noted not all people experience seizures always. For others it occurs occasionally and for some it occurs at one stage of life and disappears.


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