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Epilepsy: Epileptic Seizures and Information

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2015/09/19

Synopsis: Information on epilepsy a chronic neurological disorder of the brain that causes a tendency to have recurrent seizures.

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Approximately 2 million people in the United States have epilepsy, a chronic disorder of the brain that causes a tendency to have recurrent seizures. Two or more seizures must occur before a person can receive the diagnosis of epilepsy, also known as a seizure disorder.

Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by epileptic seizures. Epileptic seizures are episodes that can vary from brief and nearly undetectable to long periods of vigorous shaking. In epilepsy, seizures tend to recur, and have no immediate underlying cause while seizures that occur due to a specific cause are not deemed to represent epilepsy. The cause of most cases of epilepsy is unknown, although some people develop epilepsy as the result of brain injury, stroke, brain tumor, and drug and alcohol misuse.

Epilepsy is one of the most common of the serious neurological disorders. Genetic, congenital, and developmental conditions are mostly associated with it among younger patients; tumors are more likely over age 40; head trauma and central nervous system infections may occur at any age.

It's not uncommon for children to have a single seizure, and an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of the population will experience a seizure at some time in their life.

Seizures occur when there's a sudden change in the normal way your brain cells communicate through electrical signals.

Seizure types are organized firstly according to whether the source of the seizure within the brain is localized (partial or focal onset seizures) or distributed (generalized seizures). Partial seizures are further divided on the extent to which consciousness is affected.

Epilepsy Seizure Types:

  • Infantile spasms (West syndrome) is associated with brain development abnormalities, tuberous sclerosis, and perinatal insults to the brain. It affects infants which by definition is between 30 days to 1 year of life.

    Childhood absence epilepsy affects children between the ages of 4 and 12 years of age. These patients have recurrent absence seizures that can occur hundreds of times a day.

  • Dravet's syndrome - Severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy (SMEI). This very rare syndrome is delimitated from benign myoclonic epilepsy by its severity and must be differentiated from the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Doose's myoclonic-astatic epilepsy.
  • Benign focal epilepsies of childhood - The most common syndromes comprising the benign focal epilepsies of childhood include Benign Childhood Epilepsy with Centro-Temporal Spikes (or benign rolandic epilepsy), and Benign Childhood Epilepsy with Occipital Paroxysms.
  • Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) begins in patients aged 8 to 20 years. These patients have normal IQ and are otherwise neurologically intact. JME is thought to be genetic, though that is not to say that JME will show in immediate family members.
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common epilepsy of adults. In most cases, the epileptogenic region is found in the mesial temporal structures (e.g., the hippocampus, amygdala, and parahippocampal gyrus). Seizures begin in late childhood and adolescence.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure and results in central nervous system (CNS) damage.
  • Frontal lobe epilepsy
  • Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
  • Occipital lobe epilepsy

During a seizure, some brain cells send abnormal signals, which stop other cells from working properly. This abnormality may cause temporary changes in sensation, behavior, movement or consciousness.

The onset of epilepsy is most common during childhood and after age 65, but the condition can occur at any age.

What to do in event of a person suffering an epileptic fit or seizure:

The response to a generalized tonic clonic epileptic seizure is simply to prevent the patient from self-injury by moving him or her away from sharp edges, placing something soft beneath the head, and carefully rolling the person into the recovery position to avoid asphyxiation.

In some cases the person may seem to start snoring loudly following a seizure, before coming to. This merely indicates that the person is beginning to breathe properly and does not mean he or she is suffocating.

Should the person regurgitate, the material should be allowed to drip out the side of the person's mouth by itself.

If a seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, or if the seizures begin coming in 'waves' one after the other - then Emergency Services should be contacted immediately.

Examples of provocants include reading, hot water on the head, hyperventilation, and flashing or flickering lights.

Treatments may be able to leave you free of seizures, or at least reduce their frequency and intensity.

In many areas of the world those with epilepsy either have restrictions placed on their ability to drive or are not permitted to drive, but most are able to return to driving after a period of time without seizures.

Epilepsy and driving is a personal and safety issue. A person with a seizure disorder that causes lapses in consciousness may be putting the public at risk from their operation of a motor vehicle. Not only can a seizure itself cause an accident, but anticonvulsants often have side effects that include drowsiness. People with epilepsy are more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than people who do not have the condition, although reports range from minimally more likely up to seven times more likely.

In the U.S., people with epilepsy can drive if their seizures are controlled with medication or other treatment and they meet the licensing requirements in their state. How long they have to be free of seizures varies in different states, but it is most likely to be between three months and a year. See Driver Information by U.S. State at www.epilepsy.com/driving-laws

  • Epilepsy becomes more common as people age.
  • In 2013 it resulted in 116,000 deaths up from 111,000 deaths in 1990.
  • About 1% of people worldwide (65 million) have epilepsy, and nearly 80% of cases occur in developing countries.
  • About 5 to 10% of all people will have an unprovoked seizure by the age of 80, and the chance of experiencing a second seizure is between 40 and 50%.
  • The number of people who currently have active epilepsy is in the range 5 to 10 per 1,000, with active epilepsy defined as someone with epilepsy who has had a least one seizure in the last five years.



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