The human brain is one of the most complex systems you can imagine, and its workings are still not fully understood. And when something in the brain goes haywire, the cause of the problem may be difficult to pin down. This is why the cause of epilepsy, one of the most common brain disorders, remains unknown in about a half of all cases.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which a chaotic electrical activity in the brain causes seizures. To be diagnosed with epilepsy, a person should experience two or more unprovoked seizures. Seizures vary in severity and can have many different causes
It’s estimated that epilepsy affects 3.4 million people in the United States. Anyone can develop the condition, but it’s more common in children and older adults.
The main symptom of epilepsy is a seizure. Seizures are can be partial (affect only a part of the brain) or generalized (affect the whole brain). A person may or may not be conscious during a seizure. Seizures manifest if the following ways:
- distortion of senses (any sense, including smell and taste, can be affected);
- a general strange and unusual feeling that defies description;
- staring blankly into space;
- an overwhelming feeling of joy, fear, or anxiety;
- repetitive movements, e.g. rubbing one’s hands, chewing, or pacing;
- muscle stiffness;
- twitching or tingling in muscles;
- loss of control over muscles that leads to collapse;
- loss of bladder and bowel control.
There are cases when emergency medical attention is required and they include the following:
- the seizure continues for more than a few minutes;
- a person is unconscious and not breathing after the seizure is over;
- a person has repeated seizures with short intervals;
- a high fever is present;
- a seizure occurs in a pregnant woman or in someone with diabetes;
- a person sustained an injury during the seizure (especially if it’s an injury to the head).
Causes of epilepsy
The cause of epilepsy remains unknown in about 50% of cases. In other cases, the condition may be influenced by identifiable factors that include the following:
- a family history of epilepsy (this factor increases your risk only slightly);
- a traumatic brain injury (TBI);
- brain conditions, including a stroke;
- brain tumors;
- infectious diseases, including meningitis, viral encephalitis, and AIDS;
- a lack of oxygen during birth and other problems that may occur during pregnancy and delivery;
- substance abuse.
In most cases, epilepsy can be brought under control with anti-seizure medicines, vagus nerve stimulation, or surgery to remove a part of the brain or disconnect a part of it from the rest of the organ.
Many people find the ketogenic diet helpful. This diet is high in fat and low in carbs, and is often used to control diabetes.
Doctors also advise people with epilepsy to identify their personal seizure triggers and avoid them whenever it’s possible.
The right treatment can help a person with epilepsy limit the frequency of seizures or even go into remission.