Epilepsy: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

  • December 19, 2020

Epilepsy refers to the neurological disorder of the central nervous system in which the activities of the brain become abnormal, leading to seizures, unusual behaviour, sensations, and loss of awareness.

Anybody can suffer from epilepsy irrespective of age, gender, and ethnicity.

Seizure symptoms can vary with people. Some may stare blankly during a seizure, while others may twitch their arms or legs. Having a single seizure may not mean one has epilepsy. Two or more unprovoked seizures may be diagnosed as epilepsy. Some people may require lifelong treatment to control seizures, but for some, it may go away. Some children may even outgrow this condition with age.

Symptoms

A person suffering from Epilepsy can show symptoms like:

  • A blank stare
  • Confusion
  • Uncontrolled jerking movements of limbs
  • Loss of awareness or consciousness
  • Fear, anxiety or deja vu

Seizures can be either focal or generalized.

Focal seizures

These seizures, known as focal or partial seizures, are caused by abnormal activities in one portion of your brain. They may be divided into 2 categories:

Focal seizures with no loss of consciousness – Such seizures do not cause a loss of awareness or consciousness. They result in involuntary jerking of a body part, such as an arm or leg, and cause dizziness, tingling, and flashes.

Focal seizures with impaired awareness – In these seizures, there may be a loss of consciousness. One may perform repetitive motions like hand rubbing, chewing, swallowing or walking in circles during such seizures.

Generalized seizures

Seizures that involve the whole brain are called generalized seizures. They are mainly of 6 types:

Absence seizures – These generally occur in children and symptoms may be staring blankly or without focusing on anything. They occur in clusters and may lead to a loss of awareness.

Tonic seizures – These mainly affect muscles of the back, arms and legs and may cause one to fall to the ground.

Atonic seizures – Atonic seizures, or drop seizures, cause a loss of muscle control, which may lead to a sudden collapse or downfall.

Clonic seizures – There may be repeated jerking muscle movements in such seizures. They generally affect the neck, face and arm muscles.

Myoclonic seizures – These seizures appear as sudden brief jerks or twitches in the arms and legs.

Tonic-clonic seizures – These seizures can lead to an abrupt loss of consciousness with biting of the tongue, stiffening and shaking of the body, and loss of control of the bladder.

Causes

Epilepsy may be traced to some factors like:

  • Genetic influence – Some epilepsy cases are genetic and run in families
  • Head trauma – A traumatic head injury can also cause epilepsy
  • Brain conditions – Strokes in adults above 35 years of age and tumours in the brain can cause epilepsy.
  • Infectious diseases – Meningitis, AIDS and viral encephalitis infections can lead to epilepsy
  • Prenatal injury – Brain damage due to some infection of the mother during pregnancy, oxygen deficiency or poor nutrition can lead to cerebral palsy or epilepsy in babies
  • Developmental disorders – Epilepsy can be due to developmental disorders, like neurofibromatosis and autism

Risk factors

Factors increasing the risk of epilepsy:

  • Age – Epilepsy can occur at any age but is most common in children and older adults
  • Genes – If you have a family history for it then, you may be at an increased risk of developing a seizure disorder.
  • Head injuries – Some epilepsy may be the result of Head injuries
  • Stroke and other vascular diseases – Stroke and other vascular diseases can lead to brain damage triggering epilepsy.
  • Dementia – Dementia in older adults increases the risk of epilepsy.
  • Brain infections – Infections and inflammation in the brain or spinal cord, can increase the chances of epilepsy.
  • Seizures in childhood – Sometimes in childhood, high fevers can be accompanied by seizures. Children who have seizures due to high fevers don’t necessarily develop epilepsy.
  • Seizures can lead to circumstances that are dangerous like:
  • Falling – which can injure your head or break a bone.
  • Drowning – One may drown while bathing or swimming if sudden bouts of seizure occur while in the water.
  • Car accidents – A seizure with loss of awareness or control can be dangerous while driving and fatal
  • Pregnancy complications – Seizures during pregnancy and the use of anti-epileptic medications increase the risk of birth defects. Women with epilepsy can become pregnant and have healthy babies provided they are carefully monitored throughout pregnancy, and medications may need to be adjusted. Talk to the doctor before planning a pregnancy
  • Emotional health issues – People with epilepsy are like to suffer from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
  • Status epilepticus – This refers to a condition where you are in a continuous state of seizures that last beyond five minutes or you experience frequent, repetitive seizures without completely gaining consciousness, which may lead to brain damage and death.
  • Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) – People with heart or respiratory conditions have a small risk of sudden unexpected death due to epilepsy.

When to see a doctor

It is time to see a doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • A seizure that lasts for more than five minutes
  • Even after the seizure stops, breathing or consciousness does not return
  • A second seizure follows immediately
  • You have a high fever
  • If you are experiencing heat exhaustion
  • If you are pregnant
  • You have diabetes
  • You have injured yourself during the seizure

Seek immediate medical advice for quick diagnosis and treatment when you notice the given symptoms.

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