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What is Epilepsy By Jessica Becherer

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Epilepsy is a disorder that affects the central nervous system. When activity of the nerve cells in a person’s brain is disturbed a seizure can result. The severity of a seizure varies from person to person depending on which area of the brain is affected.

Symptoms of epilepsy are different for each person. However, most symptoms or seizures tend to be the same after the first episode. Some common symptoms are temporary confusion, loss of consciousness, uncontrollable jerking movements of limbs, and staring spells. The type of seizure can be classified as either focal seizures and generalized seizures. Focal seizures or partial seizures are divided into two categories: simple focal seizures and dyscognitive focal seizures. While generalized seizures are split into six categories: absence seizures, tonic seizures, clonic seizures, myoclonic seizures, atonic seizures, and tonic-clonic seizures.

The causes of epilepsy varies. In about half the cases, there is not a precise reason the condition developed. For the other half of people, there are six explanations: genetic influence, head trauma, brain conditions (such as a tumor or stroke), infectious diseases, prenatal injury, developmental disorder (related to autism or neurofibromatosis).

As with any condition, there are always risk factors. Age is a big risk factor. Epilepsy is most commonly developed at an early age or after the age of 60. However, it could happen at any age. Dementia has also been proven to increase the risk of epilepsy. Family history, head injuries, stroke, and brain infections also increase the risk.

Epilepsy can result in a seizure at any time that can endanger a person’s life. One common complication is falling down and hitting your head or breaking a bone. Another would be drowning. A person with epilepsy has a higher chance of drowning compared to the average person. Seizures can cause a car accident at anytime when a person with epilepsy is driving. There are restrictions put in place in certain states to determine if a person with epilepsy is allowed to drive. Seizures during pregnancy can also lead to problems for the mother and the child. There are also two very uncommon conditions that could occur. They are status epilepticus and SUDEP. Status epilepticus is a seizure lasting more than five minutes or multiple seizures without consciousness in between. This could result in more serious brain damage or death. SUDEP stands for sudden unexplained death in epilepsy. This results in death. The cause is unknown but it is most likely linked with heart or respiratory conditions.

In order to be diagnosed with epilepsy, the doctor will need to run several tests. The easiest tests are a neurological exam and a blood test. The neurological exam includes testing behavior, motor abilities, and mental condition. The blood test will show signs of any infections, genetic conditions, or any other possible conditions that would result in seizures. To find out what kind of seizures a person is experiencing, CT scans, MRI, fMRI, PET, SPECT, and neuropsychological tests are done to see what portion of the brain is being affected.

The most common way to treat epilepsy is with medication. This should stop most seizures from occurring; however anti-seizure medication can come with some side effects. These side effects include: fatigue, dizziness, loss of bone density, speech problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, and inflammation of some organs. If the tests show the seizures are coming from a small area of the brain that does not affect any vital functions, surgery can be done to remove the affected area. There are also two therapies that can help inhibit seizures. They are vagus nerve stimulation and a ketogenic diet. The diet is composed of high fat and low carbohydrate intake.

While epilepsy is a tough condition to live with, it is possible. With the proper medication, a determined positive outlook, and support groups it can be tolerated and kept under control. It is also good to educate friends and family about the condition so they know what to expect when there is a seizure and how to handle it correctly.



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