|Epilepsy Cause and Treatments
|Epilepsy or seizure disorder is a physical condition that occurs when there is a sudden, brief change in
how the brain works. When brain cells are not working properly, a person's consciousness, movement,
or actions may be altered for a short time - epileptic seizures.
Seizures can be generalized. All brain cells are involved. Generalized seizure may consist of
a convulsion with a complete loss of consciousness or a brief period of fixed staring.
Partial seizure happens when those brain cells not working properly are limited to one part of
the brain. Such partial seizures may cause periods of "automatic behavior" and altered
consciousness. This is typified by purposeful- looking behavior, such as buttoning or
unbuttoning a shirt. Such behavior, however, is unconscious, may be repetitive, and is usually
Epilepsy affects about 2.7 million Americans, and results in an estimated annual cost of
$15.5 billion in medical costs and lost or reduced earnings and production. Very young and
the elderly are more often to be affected. About 10% of Americans will experience a seizure
sometime during their lifetime, and about 3% will have had a diagnosis of epilepsy by age 80.
What are Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a general term that refers to a tendency to have recurrent seizures. There are
various types of seizures. People with diagnosed epilepsy often have only one type of
seizure, although some experience more than one type. The term "epilepsy" can be used
interchangeably with "seizure disorder." A seizure happens when abnormal electrical activity
in the brain causes an involuntary change in body movement or function, sensation,
awareness, or behavior. Epilepsy is not contagious and poses no risk to others.
What are seizures?
A seizure occurs when abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes an involuntary change
in body movement or function, sensation, awareness, or behavior. A seizure can last from a
few seconds to a few minutes. There are more than 20 different types of seizures. These
types can be broadly classified into two groups: 1) primary generalized seizures and 2)
Symptoms experienced by a person during a seizure depend on where in the brain the
disturbance in electrical activity occurs. A person having a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure
may cry out, lose consciousness, and fall to the ground, and have rigidity and muscle jerks. A
person having a complex partial seizure may appear confused or dazed and will not be able
to respond to questions or direction. Some people, however, have seizures that are not
noticeable to others. Sometimes, the only clue that a person is having an absence (petit mal)
seizure is rapid blinking or a few seconds of staring into space.
What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy can arise as a result of many different conditions that affect the brain. Examples of
these conditions include stroke (resulting from a blockage of the blood supply to parts of the
brain), complications during childbirth, infections (such as meningitis, encephalitis,
cysticercosis, or brain abscess), head trauma, and certain genetic disorders. Often, definite
causes of epilepsy cannot be identified; in these instances, the cause may be labeled
"idiopathic" or "cryptogenic." Hereditary factors may contribute to the development of
Can herbs or supplements help epilepsy?
Not sure. You should see doctor immediately for proper treatment, if you have the symptoms
Can epilepsy be prevented?
Sometimes — but not always — epilepsy is preventable. Epilepsy can be prevented in
children and adults by avoiding sports-related injuries to the head and by wearing helmets
and seat-belts to prevent head injuries associated with a bicycle or motor vehicle accident.
Women can prevent epilepsy in their children by obtaining proper prenatal care to avoid
problems during pregnancy and child birth.
Severe lead poisoning can cause seizures, and lesser degrees of poisoning can adversely
affect children's neurological and intellectual development. Fortunately, severe lead poisoning
is now rare in the United States. Individuals should follow general recommendations for
reducing exposure to lead-based products at home or at work that can cause seizures.
Alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures, and long-term alcohol abuse may contribute to the
development of epilepsy. Individuals should avoid excessive alcohol abuse that can cause
What is the burden of epilepsy in the U.S.?
Estimates of the number of people with epilepsy in the U.S. range from 1.4 to 2.7 million
people, depending on the diagnostic criteria and study method used to identify people with
epilepsy. New cases of epilepsy are most common among children and the elderly.
How is epilepsy treated?
Treatment methods control seizures for most people with epilepsy. Antiepileptic drugs are the
most common form of treatment. With certain types of epilepsy, when medication is not
effective, surgery may be. Another option is vagus nerve stimulation, a recently approved
therapy in which an electrical device is implanted in the affected person's shoulder to
periodically stimulate a cranial nerve. For persons with certain types of seizures, a special
high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet may reduce seizures if other treatments do not work.
SOURCE CDC Online Publication September 2006  Epilepsy NICHCY A
publication of the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities 2006
The causes of epilepsy - Summary of Research Findings
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