Facts About Epilepsy

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What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a generic term for a variety of seizure disorders. A person with recurring seizures is said to have epilepsy. A seizure is a brief disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain.

What is the difference between seizures and epilepsy?

Seizures are a symptom of epilepsy. They occur when a group of brain cells- which normally discharge in a choice or random manner – suddenly discharge together in rhythmic bursts. Epilepsy describes a state in which a group of abnormal brain cells, scar tissue, malformation or other underlying condition makes the brain susceptible to periodic or recurring rhythmic bursts of electrical energy.

How many people does epilepsy affect?

Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder after stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. It affects three million Americans of all ages. Approximately 200,000 new cases of seizures and epilepsy occur each year. One in every 10 Americans will experience a seizure at some point in their lives. Three percent will eventually develop epilepsy.

What causes epilepsy?

In nearly 70% of cases, the cause is unknown. The most common causes for the remaining 30% include: head trauma resulting from automobile accidents, gunshot wounds and sports accidents; brain tumor and stroke; poisoning, such as lead or alcohol; infection and maternal injury. Some rare forms are genetic. Epilepsy is never contagious – it is impossible to get it from or give it to another person.

How is epilepsy treated?

Epilepsy may be treated with medications, surgery, electrical stimulation therapy or a special diet. Medication therapy is by far the most common and is usually the first to be tried. A number of epilepsy medications are currently available. These medications control different types of seizures. A seizure-preventing medication (also known as antiepileptic or anticonvulsant drug) won’t work properly until it reaches a certain level in the blood stream and that blood level must be maintained. It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions very carefully as to when and how much medication should be taken. The goal is to keep the blood level high enough to prevent the seizures, but not so high that it causes unwelcome side effects.

Approximately 500,000 Americans receive medical care which successfully controls their seizures without further complication. Approximately one million people experience inadequate relief from their seizures and/or treatment side effects. New medications with fewer side effects are desperately needed.

Know the Hidden Signs of Epilepsy in Children

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder that can be difficult to detect in young children. Not all seizures are convulsive – there are many types of seizures that a child or adolescent might experience. Some signs appear to be normal behavior and may last a very short time.

 

Some signs to watch for in small children include:

  • Short attention blackouts that look like daydreaming
  • Sudden falls for no reason
  • Lack of response for brief periods
  • Dazed behavior
  • Unusual sleepiness and irritability when wakened from sleep
  • Head nodding
  • Rapid blinking
  • Frequent complaints from the child that things look, smell, sound, taste or feel “funny”
  • Clusters of “jackknife” movements by babies who are sitting down
  • Clusters of grabbing movements with both arms in babies lying on their backs
  • Sudden stomach pain followed by confusion and sleepiness
  • Repeated movements that look out of place or unnatural
  • Frequent stumbling or unusual clumsiness
  • Sudden repeated episodes of fear for no apparent reason
Early Detection is Key

Early recognition and treatment of children who experience seizures is important to prevent further problems. Undiagnosed seizures can lead to:

  • Learning disabilities, as brief blackouts make it difficult to follow instructions and impede understanding at school.
  • Safety risks, because a sudden loss of awareness in certain situations, (swimming in a pool, climbing a tree) can lead to serious injury.
  • Behavior problems, as the child experiences feelings that are difficult to communicate and may act out.
  • Social problems, because the child, his/her family and others do not understand the cause or nature of the child’s unusual actions or behavior.

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