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Epilepsy is a disorder of the nervous system because of which people can become suddenly unconscious and can undergo with violent, uncontrolled moves of the body. Elderly adults and children are the ones who are most often affected by this. Only in minority of the cases, there is a clear cause for epilepsy.

There are various types of epilepsy each with different symptoms, causes and treatments. The types of epilepsy include:

  • Idiopathic generalized epilepsy
  • Idiopathic partial epilepsy
  • Symptomatic generalized epilepsy
  • Symptomatic partial epilepsy

Causes of Epilepsy

When nerve cells in the brain fire electrical impulses at much higher rate than the normal it causes a sort of electrical storm in the brain known as seizures. A pattern of repeated seizures is known as epilepsy.

Some of the major causes of epilepsy are:

  • Low oxygen during birth
  • Brain tumours
  • Head injuries that occur from accidents during youth, adulthood or it may be due to injuries that occurred during birth
  • Genetic conditions that result in brain injury, such as tuberous sclerosis
  • Stroke or any other type of damage to the brain
  • Infections such as encephalitis or meningitis
  • Abnormal levels of substances such as blood sugar or sodium

It should however be remembered that in about70% of the cases of epilepsy in children and adults no cause can be discovered.

Signs and Symptoms  

Epilepsy symptoms and signs depend on the part of the brain where the seizure activity has taken place and on the type of seizure. Symptoms of simple partial seizures may be sensory, motor, psychic and autonomic.

Motor signs may include:

  • Alternating contraction and relaxation of muscle groups
  • Vocalization, Speech arrest
  • Eye movements and then turning of head to the same side
  • Asymmetrical posturing of the limbs

Sensory symptoms may include the following:

  • Hearing buzzing, humming, hissing noises
  • Seeing illusions, hallucinations, flashes of colours or lights
  • Experiencing unpleasant tastes or odours
  • Dizziness, light-headedness

Autonomic signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Borborygmi
  • Incontinence
  • Flushing
  • Pupillary dilation
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Piloerection
  • Sweating
  • Tachycardia

Psychic symptoms include the following:

  • Dreamy state
  • Detachment, depersonalization
  • Memory distortion
  • Unprovoked emotion such as pleasure, fear, displeasure, anger, depression, erotism, anger, elation
  • Time distortion

Symptoms of Complex Partial Seizures: The most common symptom which distinguishes complex partial seizures from simple partial seizures is loss of consciousness.

Symptoms of Tonic-Clonic Seizures: Major signs of Tonic-Clonic Seizures may include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fall
  • Yell
  • Fingers and jaw clenched
  • Extension of legs arms or face
  • Increase in heart rate and blood pressure, flushing, increased bladder pressure, increased salivation, apnea, increased bronchial secretion and so on.

Symptoms of Absence Seizures: This type mostly affects children and are characterized by

  • Blank staring
  • Change in facial expression
  • Automatisms
  • Jerking movements of the extremities
  • Lack of awareness, memory, responsiveness,
  • Postictal confusion, sense of "lost" time

Preventive measures

Epilepsy can be caused due to various factors including stroke, head trauma, genetic disorders or infections. While some of the causes are preventable there are others which are not. Some of the best way to prevent epilepsy are:

  • Obtaining proper prenatal care
  • Proper vaccination in children
  • Follow food safety guidelines
  • Avoid lead poisoning
  • Do not indulge in substance abuse
  • Prevent stroke
  • Always wear a helmet while driving or playing any dangerous sports activity where chances of head injure is there
  • Drive safely
  • Improve home safety by removing factors from the house that is likely to cause head injuries

Myths and facts:

Myth: Epilepsy is contagious

Fact: Epilepsy cannot be caught by coming in contact with someone who is suffering from it. It is not contagious.

Myth: People with epilepsy can’t excel in school or can’t work, have children and lead normal life

Fact: Epilepsy is a medical condition that can very well be managed. It does not affect intelligence in any way. Due to medications some time the patients may feel fatigue or drowsiness but it does not prevent anyone from leading a normal life.

Myth: You can swallow your tongue during seizure.

Fact: It is impossible to swallow one’s own tongue.

Myth: You should force something into the person’s mouth having seizure.

Fact: Nothing should be forced into the person’s mouth as it may chip teeth, break someone’s jaw, puncture gum and so on. The person should gently be rolled on one side and something soft kept under his head to protect from injury.

Diagnosis of disease

To diagnose epilepsy your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms. Several tests may be done to diagnose the disease. Your doctor may ask you to perform

  • Neurological examination: In such examination he is going to examine your motor abilities, behaviour, mental function and various other areas to determine your condition and also the type of epilepsy you may have.
  • Blood tests: Doctor may ask you to go for several blood tests to check if there is any infection, genetic conditions or any other condition that is causing epilepsy.
  • Your doctor may also suggest various other tests to detect brain abnormality such as Electroencephalogram (EEG), Computerized tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Functional MRI (fMRI), Positron emission tomography (PET), Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT), Neuropsychological tests and so on.

Treatment for Epilepsy

Most of epileptic seizures can be controlled with the help of drug therapy. Mostly anticonvulsant drugs are used for the purpose. Type of epilepsy treatment will depend on factors such as severity of condition and also frequency. Age, medical history and overall health is also taken into consideration while prescribing medicines to the patient. Although there are different types of epilepsy, medicine can control it in about 70% of patient.

If epilepsy is caused because of an abnormal brain tissue that is frequently located in the temporal lobe of brain than surgery can be used to prevent it. Through surgery the tissue can be removed and seizures can be prevented. When medicine fail to cure the patient than surgery is used to cure the disease.

Following ketogenic diet is also used as a treatment for reducing seizures in small children with controlled epilepsy. The low carbohydrate, high-fat and adequate protein diet helps the body to burn fat and results in source of energy. The diet being challenging and unpalatable must be carried out under medical supervision.

Steps to improve the health

  • Get enough sleep each day.
  • Practicing Meditation can go a long way in getting some relief from epilepsy
  • Avoid alcohol and certain drugs
  • Reduce stress and lead a better stress free lifestyle
  • Eat proper diet. Include plenty of fluids, fresh vegetables.
  • Avoid exposure to flickering lights or patterns
  • Take good care during illness specially when vomiting or suffering from diarrhoea
  • Avoid places where there is overheating or there is significant variation in temperature.
  • Protect your head from any injuries by adopting safety measures such as wearing helmet while driving and playing sports and performing such other activities.
  • Take epilepsy Medicine as directed by your doctor.

Important things to know

  • A seizure is sudden disruption to brain activity which may cause odd feelings, unusual movements, changed behaviour or impaired consciousness.
  • The type, cause and treatment may vary from person to person.
  • If any seizure lasts for more than five minutes it is important to call the doctor immediately or take the patient to hospital and get medical help.
  • Even after taking the medicine and following the lifestyle changes suggested by your doctor the problem still persist, than you should again visit your doctor and go for further investigation.

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