1. What causes epilepsy?
In many cases a specific cause for epilepsy cannot be found but some known causes include: head injuries, pre-birth trauma, chemical imbalances, certain infections in the brain, (e.g. encephalitis and meningitis), strokes and brain tumours. If both parents have a strong family history of epilepsy, their child may be at higher risk which means that one can inherit the tendency to have epilepsy.
2. How is epilepsy diagnosed?
If a person is experiencing the symptoms of epilepsy, a careful medical history will be taken. Having a single seizure does not necessarily mean a person has epilepsy. Epilepsy is diagnosed using an electroencephalograph (EEG) – a machine that records brain waves. Electrical signals from brain cells are recorded as wavy lines by the machine and abnormal patterns can assist the doctor in determining whether or not a person has epilepsy. In addition imaging devices such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can search for any abnormal physical conditions (scars, growths, etc) in the brain that may be causing seizures. Some research centers employ positron emission tomography (PET) which can identify areas of the brain producing seizures.
3. What are some of the myths around epilepsy?
Epilepsy is an underlying neurological condition that affects the delicate systems which govern how electrical energy behaves in the brain making it susceptible to recurring seizures. Epilepsy is not a disease, not contagious, nor is it a form of mental illness or impaired mental development. There is no such thing as an “epileptic”, there are individuals living with epilepsy conditions.
4. What is a seizure?
Epilepsy is characterized by the reoccurrence of sudden, brief seizures which vary from person to person in nature and intensity. A seizure is a temporary generation of excess electrochemical energy inside the brain cells –sometimes described as a “lightening storm” of the brain. For some people seizures are brief and infrequent and do not prevent them from leading normal lives – for others they are severely debilitating.
5. Are there different types of seizures?
Seizures are generally classified in two categories - partial and generalized seizures:
Partial Seizures begin in one place in the brain called the seizure focus and affect only part of the brain. Depending on where they start and which part of the brain they involve, partial seizures may (complex partial seizures) or may not (simple partial seizures or aura) alter consciousness or awareness. Seizures may begin as partial seizures and evolve into generalized seizures.
Generalized seizures happen when abnormal excessive energy occurs throughout the whole brain at once with no apparent focal point of onset or warning beforehand. Consciousness is altered and these seizures can be convulsive or non convulsive.
6. What is the first aid procedure for convulsive seizures?
Don’t panic! Convulsive seizures are usually startling to watch. You can help by following these steps:
7. What is the first aid procedure for complex partial non-convulsive seizures?
Don’t panic! Your job is to make sure the person is safe and comfortable. Many people turn away from a person having a seizure in public, whether out of embarrassment or sometimes mistaken assumptions about a persons’ seemingly strange behaviour. You can help by following these steps:
8. How do I know when to call an ambulance?
Not every seizure requires medical intervention.
Call for medical help immediately if:
9. What is an aura?
An aura is a brief sensation/experience that sometimes comes before a seizure. A person experiencing an aura may notice unusual distortions of sight, sound, smell or emotion or have sudden jerking movements in the body. They will be quite conscious or aware but will have no control over what is happening.
10. What are the treatments for epilepsy?
Neurologists, pediatricians and neurosurgeons provide treatments for epilepsy. Normally after the appearance of symptoms, a person will be referred to a specialist by their family physician.
Each individual with epilepsy is affected in a different manner by seizures so what may help one person may not help another. Fifty percent of those people diagnosed with epilepsy are able to achieve control of their seizures with anti-convulsant medications, although drug trials and side effects often present new health and social challenges. Thirty percent of people with epilepsy still experience occasional seizures, even with medications. The remaining twenty percent are those people with intractable epilepsy.
Some people with untreatable seizures may be candidates for various surgical procedures which can sometimes control or partially control seizure activity. Many people with epilepsy also work to minimize the negative impacts of the condition by following very good health practices, (e.g. lots of sleep, balanced diets, exercise regimes, stress reduction, avoidance of alcohol, etc).
(For an excellent on-line course to learn more about Epilepsy please visit Epilepsy Toronto's Website).
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