Epilepsy is a chronic disorder in which the brain activity becomes abnormal causing unprovoked, recurrent seizures. It refers not just to one illness but a group of related disorders characterized by a tendency for recurrent seizures. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder affecting about 65 million people of all ages globally. Here’s a brief overview of the causes, symptoms, and treatment of epilepsy.
Seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy. Signs and symptoms of a seizure may vary but include:
- Temporary confusion
- Staring into space
- Stiff muscles
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Psychological symptoms like fear, anxiety, or déjà vu
- Euphoria during aura (before the episode)
Types of seizures
There are two main types of seizures depending on whether it affects just one part of the brain or the whole brain. Generalized seizures affect the whole brain while partial seizures affect just one part of the brain. Generalized seizures involve a loss of awareness or consciousness while partial seizures do not.
Epilepsy seizure triggers
Some people are able to identify the things that trigger seizures for them. The most commonly reported triggers include:
- Lack of sleep
- Illness or fever
- Bright lights, flashing lights, or patterns
- Certain medication
- Skipping meals, overeating, or specific food ingredients
Causes and risk factors for epilepsy
Epilepsy is idiopathic, meaning the cause is as yet unknown. However, a variety of risk factors increase the likelihood of developing it.
- Central nervous infections like bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis, and neurocysticercosis
- Genetics with different races exhibiting differences in frequency and how epilepsy presents
- Family history
- Socio-economic factors with higher rates among poor people
- Head trauma, such as from an accident
- Brain conditions like stroke and tumors. Strokes – Signs To Look Out For
- Prenatal injury or brain damage that occurs before birth
- Developmental conditions like autism and neurofibromatosis
- Alcohol consumption and drug abuse
- Age with a higher likelihood of developing it among children under 2 years and adults over 65 years
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 25% of epilepsy cases are preventable. You can reduce your risk of developing epilepsy by:
- Wearing a helmet to prevent head injuries whenever you’re using riding a bike or motorcycle.
- Seeking perinatal care to prevent epilepsy from birth injuries.
- Managing risk factors for stroke and heart disease.
- Practicing good hygiene and preventative methods to avoid cysticercosis, an infection that is the most common cause of epilepsy.
Epilepsy is treated and managed in different ways.
Anti-seizure medication is commonly prescribed for people with epilepsy to control the severity and frequency of seizures. Many people are able to decrease their dosage over time. Children can eventually discontinue medication and go on to live a seizure-free life.
Studies have shown that medical cannabis helps people with epilepsy control seizures.
When medications fail to control seizures, surgery where the surgeon removes the area of the brain causing seizures is an option. Surgery certainly has its risks but when it’s successful people with epilepsy are able to decrease their dosage and have fewer seizures.
A variety of therapies are also used in conjunction with medication and/or surgery. One of the most common is putting children on a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is high in fats and low in carbohydrates.
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