What is a Seizure Disorder (Epilepsy)?
November is epilepsy awareness month, so it's time to get educated about epilepsy and seizure disorders to spread the word.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder characterized by seizures caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The only physical symptom is the seizures that occur without warning and sometimes include loss of consciousness and convulsions. People with epilepsy experience a loss of control over their body, which I imagine is pretty frightening. When I was 12, I was on a church youth retreat with my friend when we witnessed another person having what appeared to be a severe seizure (their entire body was on the floor shaking), and I'll never forget how frightened I was as I silently prayed for them.
Types of Seizures
There are many different types of seizures, but I'm going to focus on the two main types of seizures, which are primary generalized seizures and partial seizures. Primary generalized seizures consist of an electrical charge that involves both sides of the brain, and they usually cause a brief or extended loss of consciousness. Absence seizures also referred to as petit mal seizures fall within this category. They are common in children and involve a blank stare or "absent" look similar to daydreaming.
Partial seizures are caused by an electrical charge in only one area of the brain. One type of partial seizure is a partial simple seizure, which is usually brief lasting only about 90 seconds and consists of unusual sensations and muscle jerking, the person experiencing it does not lose consciousness and it ends naturally. A complex partial seizure is longer, lasting around two minutes, consciousness is altered and random movements or wandering is common.
Who is most susceptible to epilepsy?
Individuals of any age can get epilepsy, however it is most common in children during their first year of life. Older adults ages 55 and up can get epilepsy from brain tumors, Alzheimer's disease and strokes. It can be present in conjunction with other disorders. It's more common in men than women, and in the past five years, an average of 2.7 million Americans have been treated for epilepsy.
What causes epilepsy?
In approximately 70% of epilepsy cases, a clear cause is unknown. Some possible causes are:
- low oxygen or head injuries at birth
- stroke or other types of brain damage
- Meningitis or other similar infections
- Abnormal blood sugar or sodium levels
In most cases, epileptic seizures can be controlled with therapy or medication or a combination of the two so that individuals with epilepsy can lead normal, happy and healthy lives.