While epilepsy is more commonly used as a general term for conditions with recurring seizures, it is medically defined as a disorder involving two or more seizure attacks unrelated to other medical conditions. Seizures take place when there is an abnormal surge of electrical activity in the brain, affecting the person’s physical and mental activities for the duration of the episode. Having a seizure does not mean that you also have epilepsy if the seizure is the result of other medical conditions.
The cause of epilepsy is often unknown, and is usually credited to hereditary and genetic factors. Some medical conditions that may cause recurring seizures include:
- Head and/or brain traumas
- Brain tumors
- Neurological diseases, such as meningitis
- Metabolic and chemical disorders within the body
- Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
- Brain hemorrhages
- Brain malformations
- Low blood sugar levels
Symptoms for seizures can vary from person to person. Sometimes, a seizure may take place without any obvious or known symptoms. Some signs that may indicate a seizure include:
- Temporary disruption of the senses
- Short periods of unconsciousness
- Staring spells
- Body convulsions
- Sudden blackout, confusion, or out of body experience
- Sometimes, irregular body movements such as teeth grinding, drooling, rolling eyes, falling, or twitching may take place
If someone next to you is displaying such symptoms, that individual may be experiencing a seizure. Be sure to take the appropriate first aid steps and call for medical help.
- Epilepsy is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person.
- Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder in the United States. It is preceded by Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.
- One in three adults know someone with the disorder
- Epilepsy affects nearly 3 million Americans and 50 million people worldwide.
- While epilepsy can develop at any age, it is more common among the young and the elderly.
First, your healthcare provider will run a series of tests to determine the cause of epilepsy. If it is due to other underlying medical conditions, he or she may try to treat it first. Treatment and management may vary from person to person.
Sometimes, seizures may stop on their own. Over 50% of affected infants and children outgrow epilepsy when they reach adulthood. For those who do not or are diagnosed later in life, antiepileptic or anti-seizure prescription medications are the most common way for effective management. Often times, individuals who are seizure-free for 5 years gradually stop taking medication under the supervision of his or her doctor. There are many different types of drug combination therapy for seizures, so it may take some time to find the right fit.
If medication is ineffective, other alternative treatments include surgery or nerve stimulation therapy, sometimes in combination with drugs. Be sure to consult your doctor for the most effective epileptic management.
First Aid - What to do?
When a person undergoes a seizure or an epileptic attack, it is important to call 911 immediately and take actions to keep the affected individual safe until medical personnel arrive. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on how to respond appropriately while waiting for medical help to respond:
- Stay calm and reassure nearby people.
- Clear the area around the affected individual to prevent possible injury.
- Ease the person to the floor, and cushion the head.
- Remove eyeglasses and loosen anything around the neck that may cause difficulties in breathing (such as neck ties, buttoned collars, etc.).
- Keep track of the length and frequency of the seizure episodes.
- Do not hold the person down or attempt to hinder his movements.
- To help keep the airway unobstructed, turn the person gently to one side.
- Stay with the person until the seizure naturally ends and the person becomes fully awake.
- Do not feed the person liquids or foods until the person is fully conscious.
- Be friendly when consciousness returns.
- Don't attempt artificial respiration except in the unlikely event that a person does not start breathing again after the seizure has stopped.
- Offer to call a taxi, friend or relative to help the person get home if he seems confused or unable to get home without help.
Sometimes, a seizure can take a more passive form and can result in involuntary facial movements, blank staring, or loss of awareness instead. Here are some tips on how to handle the situation:
- Stay calm and speak reassuringly to the affected individual.
- Guide the person away from dangers, but do not restrain the person.
- If the person is agitated, stay a safe distance away, but close enough to protect the person until full awareness has returned.
- It is not necessary to call 911 in this situation, but if the seizure worsens or if the individual becomes unconscious, calling 911 will be a good idea.