What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition that is characterised by recurrent and unprovoked seizures. The seizures are a result of sudden abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The type of seizure will depend on where it starts and spreads within the brain.

What are seizures?

A seizure is a disturbance in the electrical activity of the entire brain. Over twenty-five million Americans (1 in 10) have had, or will have, at least one seizure at some time in their lives. Signs and symptoms may include muscle spasms, mental confusion, a loss of consciousness and/or uncontrolled or aimless body movements. Seizures may be frequent or rare. They may last a second or several minutes. They may be severe or mild.

There are two main types of seizures:

1. Generalized seizures begin with a release of neurons throughout the brain. They include: "grand mal" (loss of consciousness, stiffening of body, jerking of limbs) and absence seizures or "petit mal" (blank spells, staring).
2. Partial seizures begin with a release of neurons in just one part of the brain. They include: simple partial seizures (uncontrolled body movements, brief changes in sensory perceptions), complex partial seizures (confusion, loss of awareness, aimless movements), and secondarily generalized seizures (convulsions due to spread of electrical activity).

What are some of the causes of epilepsy?

* Head trauma
* Infection: meningitis, viral encephalitis
* Brain tumor

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

* Medical history
* Physical exam and lab tests
* Neurological exam

How is epilepsy treated?

* Anti-convulsive medication
* Surgery
* VNS: vagus nerve stimulation