Epilepsy is a medical condition marked by a predisposition for generate seizures. Seizures are bursts of abnormal electrical activity in the brain that affects how it works. This is a condition with significant morbidity and has cognitive, psychological and social impacts on the individuals suffering from it.
Epilepsy can start at any age, but usually starts either in childhood or in people over 60, what is referred to as adult onset epilepsy. In the majority of the cases it is unclear what is the cause of this condition.
It can develop in those with a genetic predisposition as it often occurs in families. In some cases, it can occur due to conditions that cause damage to the brain such as, head injuries, stroke, brain tumour, severe infection of the brain, and lack of oxygen during child birth. Other conditions that can cause this include low blood sugar, drug abuse, alcohol intoxication and abnormalities of electrolytes in the body. The diagnosis of epilepsy is made when an individual has two or more seizures with no reversible cause.
They are various ways in which patients with epilepsy present and as well the seizure types are also different. Some of the ways patients can present include uncontrollable jerking of the arms or legs, which is often referred to as having a fit. Some individuals loose awareness and stare blankly into space, while others may just become stiff or even lose consciousness. Other forms of epilepsy may not be so profound and individuals may experience strange sensations such as a rising feeling in the stomach, unusual smell or taste or tingling in the arms and legs.
In individuals who have epilepsy seizures can happen randomly or can have triggers. Some of the triggers include but not limited to; stress, lack of sleep, alcohol use, illicit drugs and flashing lights. The diagnosis of epilepsy requires a careful history to ascertain indeed those individuals are having seizures. A brain scan is required to exclude some of the conditions already mentioned that can cause damage to the brain. Often a test called an EEG is also done. This test is done by attaching sensors on the scalp to pick up any abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Other tests that are done include blood work to exclude any metabolic abnormalities.
The goals for treating individuals with epilepsy is to reduce the frequency of seizures as much as possible or even stop the seizures completely. The mainstay of treatment is the use of anti-epileptic drugs. This medication must be taken religiously to avoid any relapses. In few cases surgery might be an option for the treatment of epilepsy. The other important aspect in managing this condition is avoiding triggers as much as possible.