Epilepsy is a disorder of the nervous system that produces sudden and intense electrical activity in the brain. This abnormal electrical activity at this level is clinically manifested by seizures that affect the control of movement, speech, vision, or even the state of consciousness.
People with epilepsy have repeated seizures that occur throughout life and which, without proper treatment, can become more severe and more frequent over time. Most often, treatment involves the daily administration of specific drugs.
Not everyone who has seizures also has epilepsy. Sometimes, they can be the result of trauma, aggression, or other illnesses, unrelated to epilepsy.
In these cases, the person will stop having attacks once the cause that led to them has disappeared. Therefore, epilepsy is a chronic, long-term disorder that causes repeated seizures in the absence of treatment, but sometimes even despite treatment.
Although epilepsy is sometimes the result of other illnesses, most often the causing factor is unknown. Epilepsy begins most often in childhood or after the age of 60, although it can develop at any age.
Factors that can increase the risk of epilepsy are:
- A history of epilepsy in the family (genetic predisposition);
- Serious head trauma (a fracture of a skull or a brain lesion) with loss of knowledge or amnesia for more than 24 hours – the more severe the lesion is, the higher the risk of developing posttraumatic epilepsy;
- A stroke or disease that has affected the blood vessels in the brain;
- Brain tumors;
- Central nervous system infections such as encephalitis or meningitis;
- Voluntary or involuntary intoxication with lead or other toxic substances
- Brain development problems before birth;
- Alcohol or drug use over a long period of time;
- Seizures in childhood;
- Alzheimer’s disease.
However, epilepsy can develop even if a person does not have any of the risk factors mentioned above. This situation is particularly common in infantile epilepsy.
Types of epilepsy
There are two main types of epileptic seizures:
Partial or localized convulsions
These are caused by abnormal electrical discharge in a particular area of the brain. They can affect the state of consciousness or just a part of the body, and afterwards they can progress, become generalized and affect the whole body.
In this type of convulsions, the abnormal electrical discharges occur across the entire brain surface and can affect the whole body. In patients who have generalized convulsions, it is impossible to determine where they started from.
Differentiation of seizures is important because partial and generalized seizures are treated differently, precisely this difference being a key factor in establishing the right treatment.
There are several types of epilepsy that can cause partial or generalized convulsions. A classification is difficult to do, as different types can have more than one cause, cause more than a certain type of convulsion and can affect different people in various different ways.
The diagnosis is based on a clinical examination and graphical recording of brain activity in the form of an electroencephalogram. Compulsorily, it is necessary to exclude by CT scan or MRI causes that induce epileptic manifestations, such as brain tumors.
Epilepsy is not a form of mental retardation or mental illness. Although some forms of infantile epilepsy are associated with subliminal intelligence and physical and mental development problems, epilepsy does not cause these problems. Convulsions may seem strange and scary, but they do not make a person crazy, violent or dangerous.
The epilepsy and the convulsions it causes can interfere with a person’s independence, self-esteem and quality of life. Some people with epilepsy may have difficulty getting the driver’s license. For women with epilepsy, pregnancy may be more complicated.
Fortunately, today’s existing treatment methods, if taken correctly, allows most patients to control their seizures and cope with the disease.
Full control of seizures requires consistency in following the treatment the doctor has prescribed. If you are using anti-epileptic drugs, they should be taken exactly as prescribed. If drugs failed to control convulsions, it is often because the treatment has not been fully respected.
It is extremely important to keep pace with administrating the treatment, a requirement that can sometimes be difficult, especially for some less organized people.
Sometimes, by mistake or negligence, one may happen to skip a dose. But remember, it is extremely important to take these drugs regularly in order to keep seizures under control as much as possible! Anti-epileptic medication will only work if the effective level of the drug is maintained throughout the body.
Surgery, a special diet (such as a ketogenic one), a nerve stimulation device (called vagus nerve stimulator) or a combination of these should be tried out when simple medication does not control the convulsive seizures of someone who suffers from epilepsy.