Epilepsy is commonly thought to produce just one kind of seizure; however, there are several different kinds. Initial diagnosis occurs most frequently among children, females during puberty, and the elderly. Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent and outwardly sporadic epileptic seizures. There are also other general symptoms of epilepsy.
There are two major forms of epilepsy: partial and generalized.
Partial epilepsy, which originates in a localized area of the brain (particularly the temporal lobe), is characterized by drastic changes in mood or sensation, also referred to as ‘auras.’ Auras are commonly thought to precede seizures as warning signs, although some specialists argue that they are aspects of the seizures themselves. Patients often have difficulty describing auras in words. Emotional changes include unusual degrees of euphoria, fear, or anger. Patients often report changes in the normal tasting of food and drink, various smells, and intense feelings of familiarity or unfamiliarity. To the outward observer, a patient undergoing a partial epileptic fit may have a blank stare, speak unusually, hallucinate, twitch, gesture repeatedly, or report seeing flashing lights. Partial seizures are defined as simple or complex depending on whether or not the patient loses consciousness.
Generalized seizures tend to originate throughout the brain. Whereas partial seizures might pass with minimal symptoms, generalized epilepsy often entails very noticeable physical symptoms. In the most common form of generalized seizure—the grand mal seizure (or tonic-clonic)—consciousness is usually lost, and the patient requires first aid attention to prevent injuries. Symptoms may also include loss of bladder control, muscle spasms and constrictions, irregular movements, shaking or jerking of the head, and the stiffening of several parts of the body.
Anyone feeling that a seizure is imminent should immediately contact a doctor. Although differentiating between epilepsy and other neurological disorders is sometimes difficult, observations reported by witnesses nearby often supplement missing information required for the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.
Patients are encouraged to maintain a seizure diary, recording the time and place at which a seizure occurred, as well as sensations and feelings preceding, during, and following the event. Witness observations are also helpful to include in these entries.
Some medical conditions yield symptoms often confused with epilepsy. Some experts call these episodes ‘imitators.’ Involuntary twisting or twitching, for instance, may be called movement imitators; fainting is referred to as a loss of consciousness imitator; a mini-stroke may be called a confusion imitator; and a panic attack, or an episode of hyperventilation, may be referred to as psychological imitators.
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