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Epilepsy is a neurological condition involving the brain that makes people more susceptible to having seizures. It is one of the most common disorders of the nervous system and affects people of all ages, races and ethnic background. More than 2.7 million Americans live with epilepsy.
When a person has two or more seizures, he or she is considered to have epilepsy. There are many possible causes of epilepsy, including tumors, strokes, and brain damage from illness or injury. In many cases, there may be no detectable cause for epilepsy.
The brain is the center that controls and regulates all voluntary and involuntary responses in the body. It consists of nerve cells that normally communicate with each other through electrical activity.
A seizure occurs when part(s) of the brain receives a burst of abnormal electrical signals that temporarily interrupts normal electrical brain function.
There are several different types of seizures, including the following:
A person may experience one or many seizures. While the exact cause of the seizure may not be known, the more common seizures are caused by the following:
Other possible causes of seizures may include the following:
The person may have varying degrees of symptoms depending upon the type of seizure. The following are general symptoms of a seizure or warning signs of seizures. Symptoms or warning signs may include:
During the seizure, the person's lips may become bluish and breathing may not be normal. The movements are often followed by a period of sleep or disorientation.
The symptoms of a seizure may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
The full extent of the seizure may not be completely understood immediately after onset of symptoms, but may be revealed with a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing. The diagnosis of a seizure is made with a physical examination and diagnostic tests. During the examination, the physician obtains a complete medical history of the person and family and asks when the seizures occurred. Seizures may be due to neurological problems and require further medical follow up.
Diagnostic tests may include:
Specific treatment for a seizure will be determined by your physician based on:
The goal of seizure management is to control, stop, or decrease the frequency of the seizures without interfering with the normal activities of daily living (ADLs). The major goals of seizure management include the following:
Treatment may include:
Medications used at home are usually taken by mouth (as capsules, tablets, sprinkles, or syrup), but some can be given rectally (into the person's rectum). If the person is in the hospital with seizures, medication by injection or intravenous (IV) may be used.
It is important to take your medication on time and as prescribed by your physician. Different people use up the medication in their body differently, so adjustments (schedule and dosage) may need to be made for the most effective seizure control.
All medications can have side effects, although some people may not experience side effects. Discuss your medication's side effects with your physician.
While you are taking medications, different tests may be done to monitor the effectiveness of the medication. These tests may include the following:
Surgery for epilepsy and seizures is a very complicated surgery performed by a specialized surgical team. The operation may remove the part of the brain where the seizures are occurring, or, sometimes, the surgery helps to stop the spread of the bad electrical currents through the brain.
A person may be awake during the surgery. The brain itself does not feel pain. With the person awake and able to follow commands, the surgeons are better able to make sure that important areas of the brain are not damaged.
Surgery is not an option for everyone with seizures. Discuss this treatment option with your physician for more information.
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Online Resources of Nervous System Disorders