Woman Suffering SeizureWhat Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a term used to describe a collection of conditions, all of which involve interruption to brain wave patterns. According to the National Institute of Health, epilepsy can range in severity from benign to life-threatening. About 2.2 million people in the United States suffer from epilepsy and 65 million have epilepsy worldwide, making it one of the most common brain disorders not caused by trauma.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy occurs when the normal pattern of the brain’s neuron activity becomes disturbed or interrupted. This can be caused by several factors including illness, congenital abnormalities in brain wiring, imbalance of nerve chemicals that cause signals to fire, or combinations of conditions. A person must have two or more seizures to be considered epileptic.

What Are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?

Symptoms vary according to the type of epilepsy but almost always include some type of seizures. Many patients experience strange sensations such as odd smells, rings of light around objects, sound hallucinations or even tastes that have no natural origin. Emotional and behavioral changes are also common.

When an epileptic patient goes into a seizure, there are often muscle spasms, convulsions and loss of consciousness. Seizures range from petit, which are often over in a few seconds, to grand mal, which may cause the patient to lose consciousness, fall on the ground, and thrash around uncontrollably.

While seizures can be frightening for both the patient and those who witness it, brain damage from an epileptic seizure is rare. Most patients recover from seizures quickly. However, patients can certainly injure themselves during an attack if they fall on a hard surface or strike something through uncontrolled movements of their limbs.

Some studies have linked epilepsy with sudden death as well as suicidal thoughts. It is very important the people with epilepsy symptoms receive a diagnosis through a qualified medical professional so that they can immediately begin treatment to reduce the likelihood of fatality or injury from seizures. Doctors generally diagnose epilepsy through a series of tests and observations.

Can Epilepsy Be Cured?

There is no known cure for epilepsy. However, patients can often control seizures through medication. Special diets may also help prevent seizure activity, particularly in children. Surgery is often a last resort for epileptic seizures that do not respond to medication.

Myths About Epilepsy

There is a great deal of information about epilepsy that has been spread through the general population in the form of “folk wisdom.” However, many of these “facts” are incorrect, and some may actually harm epilepsy patients. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, here are a few misconceptions about epilepsy along with the correct response in these situations:

• Epilepsy patients can choke on their own tongues, so it is important to place something in the mouth, such as a belt, to keep them from strangling. This myth is very pervasive and probably came about from observations of seizures in which victims may appear to be choking. However, it is physically impossible for a person to choke on his or her own tongue, although epileptics can choke on liquids or food that was in the mouth at the time a seizure began. Nothing should ever be placed in a seizure victim’s mouth. Instead, turn the patient gently on his or her side to clear the airway.
• Epilepsy patients should be restrained during a seizure. Restrains are unnecessary and can actually cause more harm to the patient. Instead, clear the area around the seizure victim and allow the seizure to run its course. Try to remove any sharp or hard objects from the person’s immediate vicinity.
• Epilepsy is a disability. Epilepsy is not a disability that prevents people from working or leading normal lives. In fact, many people with well-controlled epilepsy work in the most demanding jobs, including health care.
• Epilepsy is a childhood disease. While many people are diagnosed with epilepsy as children, the disease does not disappear for adults. However, with continued medication and treatment, adults may experience fewer or less serious seizures as adults than they did as children.
• Epilepsy is contagious. Epilepsy is not caused by a virus or bacteria, so it cannot be transferred to another person. Some people are born with this condition but siblings may be epilepsy-free.

Epilepsy Research Continues

Doctors and researchers continue to work to find a cure for epilepsy. At this time, research points toward a possible cure in the future; until that time, epilepsy patients will continue to rely on anti-seizure medications to control their symptoms.