Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which abnormal disruptions of neural communication result in unpredictably occurring seizures. Also called a seizure disorder, most cases develop in childhood, in females during puberty, and in the elderly. Roughly 3 million people are diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. alone.
Diagnosis usually follows two or more unprovoked seizures occurring at least 24 hours apart. Unprovoked seizures are defined as those not caused by an underlying illness or situational trigger, such as a stroke, head injury, or withdrawal.
There are several different types of seizures, which range in severity and symptoms. Some seizures only last for a few seconds, while others can last for several minutes. Some may be characterized by a blank stare and slight twitching, while others—such as atonic seizures—cause sufferers to lose consciousness and suddenly fall to the ground.
Epilepsy generally results in two major types of seizures: partial and generalized.
Partial seizures originate from a specific and contained area of the brain and often cause sudden emotional and sensory changes, such as fear, euphoria, or anger, as well as unusual variations in taste, sound, and smell. Partial seizures are defined as either simple or complex depending on whether or not the victim falls unconscious. Other symptoms include dizziness or seeing flashing lights.
Rather than stemming from a localized area of the brain, generalized seizures involve the entire brain, and generally involve more severe symptoms. Often generalized seizures involve convulsions, jerking, and stiffening of muscles, loss of consciousness, loss of bladder control, biting of the tongue, and usually require those nearby to intervene with simple first aid procedures to help avoid serious injury.
Poor prenatal care is particularly linked with the development of epileptic brain abnormalities. Other associated risk factors include autism, stroke, infection, Alzheimer’s, and severe head trauma.
Those already diagnosed with the disease often experience a greater frequency of seizures as a result of physical overexertion, sleep deprivation, and menstruation.
Epilepsy is most commonly treated through antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), which work effectively in roughly three-quarters of all cases. In cases where AEDs prove ineffective, alternative options include surgical resections of problem areas in the brain, implants known as vagus nerve stimulators (VNS), and ketogenic diets (high fat, low carbohydrates).
A key preventative in avoiding epilepsy is for mothers to follow all doctor recommended aspects of prenatal care. Another includes wearing protective helmets (especially among children, who are more accident-prone) during all high-risk physical activities (e.g. bicycling).
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