What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by recurrent seizures. The seizures occur due to a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain, causing a disturbance in messaging signals between brain cells. They can range from minor and brief to long periods of vigorous shaking. Episodes can result in physical injury, occasionally including broken bones. Seizures tend to recur and have no immediate underlying cause.
The cause of epilepsy is often unknown (idiopathic), but some common causes include:
- Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
- Brain tumors
The type of seizure a person with epilepsy experiences depends on the part of the brain that is affected:
- Absence (petit mal) seizure: staring spells
- Generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure: involves entire body, rigid muscles, and loss of alertness
- Partial (focal) seizure: can involve any of above symptoms, depending on where in the brain it starts
Diagnosing epilepsy involves a number of exams and tests:
- A physical exam
- EEG (electroencephalogram) to check electrical activity in brain
- Sometimes necessary to wear EEG for days or weeks or undergo video EEG in a special hospital.
- Head CT or MRI sometimes done to find location of problem
Other potential tests include:
- Blood sugar
- Kidney/liver function tests
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
- Tests for infectious disease
Treatment of epilepsy involves taking medication (anticonvulsants or antiepileptic drugs), lifestyle changes, and sometimes surgery
Epilepsy by the numbers.
- There are an estimated 2.2 million people in the United States living with epilepsy, or 7.1 for every 1,000 people
- Worldwide, approximately 50 million people are living with epilepsy
- Average of 150,000 new cases per year in the United States
- SUDEP is the unexpected death of someone with epilepsy who was otherwise healthy. No other cause of death can be found in these cases. 1 in every 1,000 people with epilepsy die of SUDEP each year.
- "Epilepsy." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 02 Feb. 2016. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
- "Epilepsy - National Library of Medicine - PubMed Health." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
- National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.