Introduction to Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes epileptic seizures.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes epileptic seizures. Epilepsy can be classified into primary epilepsy where there is no obvious discernible cause and secondary epilepsy where the seizures occur due to a known factor. It isn’t as rare as many people believe and up to 1 in 100 people in the UK have experienced some form of epileptic seizure during their lives.
What causes Epilepsy?
Information is processed and transmitted in the brain via a number of neuronal pathways in the brain. The individual cells that make up these pathways are termed neurons and it is their activity that composes thought, consciousness and many of our responses the environment around us. In an epileptic seizure neurons situated in the cortex (an area concerned with higher brain functions) fire abnormally, which causes the corresponding abnormal movements and behaviours that compose the epileptic seizure.
It isn’t known what actually causes primary, or idiopathic, epilepsy though in many such cases it is thought to have a genetic component dependent on your family history, as well as an environmental trigger. Some potential triggers that can induce epilepsy include recreational drug use, alcohol, brain tumours or infections (such as meningitis) and stroke.
Epileptic seizures can be triggered by alcohol, sleep deprivation, drugs, menstrual periods and, in some rare cases, bright, flashing lights. Triggers tend to be largely unique in an individual so it is recommended to determine what they are as soon as possible.
What are the symptoms of Epilepsy?
The primary symptoms of epilepsy are the occurrence of these seizures. These can be generalised seizures where the abnormal electrical activity affects the majority or all of the brain, or focal seizures where a particular, identifiable structure in the brain is determined to be the focal point of the seizures.
Epileptic seizures can be subdivided into a range of classifications dependent on whether they include abnormal tensing of your muscles, relaxation, twitching, whether you remain conscious during the seizure and subsequently whether you remember it occurring.
Status epilepticus is considered a medical emergency and is a case of epilepsy where you don’t regain consciousness between a number of seizures, or if a seizures lasts for more than 30 minutes.
How is Epilepsy treated?
Many epileptics keep a diary in order to discern any pattern in their seizures which can help them avoid certain triggers in the future. As a result many people can be treated without medication by avoiding known triggers and making necessary lifestyle choices. People can also suffer from epilepsy at certain times in their lives only for it to resolve at later stages.
If medication is necessary a clinician will prescribe anti-epileptic medications after making their diagnosis with medical imaging or the presence of repeated seizures.
In severe cases of epilepsy, and only in focal epilepsy where an identifiable part of the brain is determined to be the source of abnormal neuronal activity, surgery may be an option. This is only the case if the area of the brain in question is not known to have any important physiological or cognitive function. Surgical intervention of this invasive nature carries a number of risks that a surgeon will explain to you fully before the procedure.