Epilepsy is a disease of the central nervous system causing recurring seizures. It requires the diagnosis and treatment of a neurologist.
Disrupted nerve cell activity in the brain causes the epileptic seizure. A convulsive seizure appears as a forceful and uncontrollable shaking, while a non-convulsive seizure is an uneventful absence of consciousness, as in an episode of blank stares lasting about 10 seconds.
The cause of epilepsy is unknown although genetics are believed to be involved. A rare single gene defect affects a small number of patients, but the majority of epileptic seizures are due to a multiple gene interaction in the brain. However, epilepsy can also be acquired from conditions including head trauma, brain infections, stroke, brain tumors or lesions, brain injury and birth defects.
Diagnosis will include imaging the brain. A CT scan or MRI may be ordered by the doctor along with blood tests. An electroencephalogram (EEG)
may also be prescribed for certain patients.
In 70 percent of cases, medication can control epileptic seizures. For those who do not respond to medication, other options include surgery, neurostimulation and/or a change in diet. Depending upon the patient, these options have provided relief and decreased the frequency of seizures.
Treatment must not be stopped suddenly as this can trigger a seizure. Your doctor will wean you off your medicine slowly to prevent this. For a few people, drug treatment is not able to control their epilepsy completely, but is still beneficial in preventing some seizures. Neurosurgery may be a possibility for those people whose epilepsy is caused by an abnormality in one particular area of the brain.
The dosages of drugs given need to be adjusted to individual patients in order to avoid unwanted side effects such as drowsiness. The ideal dosage is the lowest dose necessary to stop the seizures occurring.
Regular check-ups are necessary in people taking long-term drug therapy. These may be carried out in the hospital for people whose epilepsy is difficult to control.
- Try to avoid the known trigger factors for seizures. This may mean eating regular meals, trying to control stress, avoiding becoming overtired, and taking your medication regularly.
- Always tell the pharmacist you are taking medication for epilepsy before buying over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Some of these can interact with your treatment.
- If your epilepsy cannot be controlled completely, try to think about safety in your surroundings and possible changes you can make.
- Try not to let epilepsy prevent you from doing everyday things in your life; most people with epilepsy lead full and active lives.
Not all cases of epilepsy last a lifetime. Many patients recover, no longer needing treatment.