Epilepsy is a brain disorder involving repeated, spontaneous seizures of any type. Seizures (“fits,” convulsions) are episodes of disturbed brain function that cause changes in attention or behavior. They are caused by abnormally excited electrical signals in the brain.
Seizures (“fits,” convulsions) are episodes of disturbed brain function that cause changes in attention or behavior. They are caused by abnormally excited electrical signals in the brain. Sometimes a seizure is related to a temporary condition, such as exposure to drugs, withdrawal from certain drugs, a high fever, or abnormal levels of sodium or glucose in the blood. If the seizure or seizures do not happen again once the underlying problem is corrected, the person does NOT have epilepsy. In other cases, permanent injury to or changes in brain tissue cause the brain to be abnormally excitable. In these cases, the seizures happen without an immediate cause. This is epilepsy. Epilepsy can affect people of any age. Epilepsy may be idiopathic, which means the cause cannot be identified. These seizures usually begin between ages 5 and 20, but they can happen at any age. People with this condition have no other neurological problems, but sometimes have a family history of seizures or epilepsy.
Some common causes of Epilepsy:
- Stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
- Illnesses that cause the brain to deteriorate.
- Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Infections (including brain abscess, meningitis, encephalitis, neurosyphilis, and AIDS).
- Problems that are present from before birth (congenital brain defects).
- Injuries near the time of birth (in this case, seizures usually begin in infancy or early childhood).
- Kidney failure or liver failure.
- Metabolic diseases that children may be born with (such as phenylketonuria).
- Tumors or other structural brain lesions (such as hematomas or abnormal blood vessels).
- For treatment of seizures, please see Seizures – first aid. If an underlying cause for recurrent seizures (such as infection) has been identified and treated, seizures may stop. Treatment may include surgery to remove a tumor, an abnormal or bleeding blood vessel, or other brain problems. Medication to prevent seizures, called anticonvulsants, may reduce the number of future seizures. These drugs are taken by mouth.
- The type of medicine you take depends on what type of seizures you are having. The dosage may need to be adjusted from time to time.
- Some seizure types respond well to one medication and may respond poorly (or even be made worse) by others. Some medications need to be monitored for side effects and blood levels
- It is very important that you take your medication on time and at the correct dose. Most people taking these drugs need regular checkups and regular blood tests to make sure they are receiving the correct dosage
- You should not stop taking or change medications without talking to your doctor first.
- Some factors increase the risk for a seizure in a person with epilepsy. Talk with your doctor about:
- Certain prescribed medications
- Emotional stress
- Illness, especially infection
- Lack of sleep
- Skipping doses of epilepsy medications
- Use of alcohol or other recreational drugs
- Epilepsy that does not get better after two or three seizure drugs have been tried is called “medically refractory epilepsy.”
- Some patients with this type of epilepsy may benefit from brain surgery to remove the abnormal brain cells that are causing the seizures.