Epilepsy is a neurological condition that can induce recurring, unprovoked seizures. For people with epilepsy, brain activity becomes abnormal and, in addition to seizures, can cause unusual behavior, sensations, and loss of awareness.
A seizure is defined as a rush of unusual electrical activity in the brain. Doctors will make an epilepsy diagnosis after two or more seizures with no other discernible cause.
The two most common types of seizures are:
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approximately 50 million people around the world have epilepsy, including 3.5 million people just in the United States.
Every case of epilepsy is different, including what causes it. Some cases have no identifiable cause. Otherwise, doctors can typically identify the cause as brain trauma, genetic predisposition, autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, or metabolic issues.
Epilepsy has different causes based on how old you are. Read about some common causes of epilepsy by age below.
Seizures are the most common symptom of epilepsy. However, symptoms present differently for different people and which type of seizure they are having. As mentioned above, there are two main types of seizures: focal and generalized.
Focal aware seizures, previously known as simple partial seizure, do not cause the person to lose consciousness. Symptoms of a focal aware seizure often include dizziness, limb twitching and tingling, and/or affected sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch.
Focal unaware seizures, previously known as complex partial seizures, cause the person to lose consciousness. Symptoms of a focal unaware seizure include having a blank stare, unresponsiveness, and performing repetitive movements.
By contrast, generalized seizures affect the whole brain. Different types of generalized seizures include:
Some risk factors and groups increase your chance of developing epilepsy, including:
See a doctor right away if you suspect you have epilepsy. Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history to determine which tests will help make the best diagnosis. You will likely undergo a neurological examination to assess your mental functioning and motor abilities.
In order to make an epilepsy diagnosis, your doctor will have to rule out other conditions that cause seizures. A complete blood count can reveal:
An electroencephalogram (EEG) can help diagnose epilepsy. A doctor will place electrodes on your scalp to identify abnormal patterns in your brain’s electrical activity. Imaging tests, including a CT scan, MRI, positron emission tomography, or single-photon emission computerized tomography, can help identify tumors or other abnormalities that induce seizures.
Epilepsy treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms, your overall health, and how well you respond to therapy. Epilepsy treatment can include:
There are some lifestyle changes that could help with epilepsy, including:
If you have a seizure, you should see a doctor immediately. Depending on the severity, you can manage epilepsy by creating a treatment plan with your doctor. The earlier you get treatment, the better. Early treatment can reduce seizures and your chances of developing serious health complications.
Epilepsy is a chronic condition that will impact your everyday life. Seizures occur at random, which means that even mundane activities can be dangerous to your wellbeing. You might experience a loss of independence.
There is no cure for epilepsy. If medication does not reduce your seizure frequency, your doctor might recommend surgery or vagus nerve stimulation. Finding the right treatment can significantly improve your quality of life.
Some ways you can cope with an epilepsy diagnosis include: