Epilepsy: An Overview
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that makes people susceptible to seizures. A seizure is a change in sensation, awareness or behavior brought about by a brief electrical disturbance in the brain.
Seizures vary from a momentary disruption of the senses, to short periods of unconsciousness or staring spells, to convulsions. Some people have just one type of seizure. Others have more than one type.
Although they look different, all seizures are caused by the same thing: a sudden change in how the cells of the brain send electrical signals to each other.
If you have epilepsy, you probably already know that it's not a mental disorder. It can be caused by anything that affects the brain, including tumors and strokes. Sometimes epilepsy is inherited. Often, no cause can be found.
Epilepsy is generally not the kind of condition that gets worse with time. Most adults who have it can expect to live a normal life span.
Doctors treat epilepsy primarily with seizure-preventing medicines. Although seizure medications are not a cure, they control seizures in the majority of people with epilepsy.
Surgery, diet (primarily in children), or electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, a large nerve leading into the brain, may be options if medications fail to control seizures. Several drugs (called antiepileptic or anticonvulsant drugs) are prescribed to prevent seizures. Many factors are involved in choosing the right seizure drug. The goal of treatment is to stop seizures without side effects from the medicines.
If You Have Epilepsy
Epilepsy is what you have, not what you are. Epilepsy is part of your life. It is not your whole life.
Other people may think that having epilepsy makes you different in some obvious way. But that's their mistake. Given the chance, you can probably live, work, and function in the world just as well as anyone else.
However, there are many areas of life in which having epilepsy can cause special difficulties. Knowing more about them may make it easier to cope.
If you have had epilepsy since childhood, you may be concerned about what it's going to mean to you as an adult. With the best of intentions, your parents may have protected you too well from the outside world. You may wonder now how you are going to make the change from being dependent on them to living on your own. Doing so may take some extra effort on your part.
If you have frequent seizures, you may feel you have to live at home. But there may be other living arrangements to help you live independently. To find out what's available in your area, contact your local Epilepsy Foundation.
If you have recently developed epilepsy, you may wonder how much your plans for the future will have to be changed. Perhaps no changes will be required. Or perhaps you will have to re-think some of your plans, at least until your treatment has had a chance to work and your seizure control becomes stable.
If you are being treated with antiepileptic drugs, you may need blood tests from time to time, but it is important to remember that drug levels cannot tell how you feel or how many seizures you have had. Achieving the best seizure control possible depends on your taking the same amount of the medicine every day in the manner prescribed by your doctor. However, epilepsy can affect many aspects of life besides the need to take a certain number of pills on time.
The term "seizure" is widely used to describe an abnormal spasm or convulsion, generated by excessive electrical activity in the brain.
In the medical community, the Latin word "ictus" may be used to describe a seizure. Related terms are used to define events associated with a seizure. Using this lexicon, "ictus" refers to the seizure itself; "ictal" defines the period in which the seizure occurs; "pre-ictal" and "post-ictal" describe periods before and after the seizure; while inter-ictal refers to the period between seizures. Thus, when an EEG reading, for example, is described as "inter-ictal," it means that it was recorded between seizures.
Seizures are epileptic events and having seizures is the defining characteristic of epilepsy.
Epilepsy has been recognized as a unique disorder for thousands of years, and references to its symptoms occur through the ages, from Babylonian tablets to the Bible.