A lot of people associate epilepsy with uncontrollable convulsions and a frothing mouth, but in reality, the condition presents itself in various ways and with varying degrees of severity, and there are different approaches to treating it.
Based on estimates, at least one percent of the population is affected by epilepsy, which manifests in different types and degrees of severity. Epilepsy is fundamentally characterized by abnormal electrical activity in a group of cells or the entire brain, which can result in cognitive, sensory, or behavioral abnormalities.
These abnormalities are typically sudden, recurring, and unpredictable, and they interrupt normal brain activity.
As the International Epilepsy Awareness Day on March 26 draws near, it's important to be aware of some key information about this condition.
What are the symptoms of epilepsy?
They may include flashing lights or tingling sensations in a particular part of the body, feelings of fear or anxiety, sudden jerking movements of limbs, and seizures.
What causes these symptoms?
The answer lies in the location of the abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The impact of epilepsy is determined by the specific group of cells affected and their function. An epileptic episode can be limited to a specific group of cells and result in partial symptoms, or it can spread throughout the brain, causing seizures, loss of consciousness, and other serious symptoms.
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
Typically, when seizures occur repeatedly, the patient will undergo an examination. The diagnostic process involves interviewing the patient to gain insight into the nature of the seizures. In some cases, a witness who observed the seizures, particularly during episodes of loss of consciousness, may also be interviewed.
If epilepsy is suspected, the patient will be referred for an EEG test to analyze the electrical activity in the brain.
As the test is usually not conducted during an active seizure, a negative result does not necessarily rule out the presence of epilepsy. In such cases, additional tests may be conducted, such as monitoring the patient for at least 24 hours using CCTV. This test is referred to as "video EEG monitoring." Furthermore, the patient may also be tested after prolonged periods of sleep deprivation.
The tests will examine the underlying cause of the seizure. Potential causes may include abnormalities in brain structure, such as tumors or irregular blood vessels, metabolic dysfunction, genetic factors, and inflammatory brain disorders. Ultimately, doctors will try to identify the specific group of cells in the brain that are responsible for the seizures.
What are the treatments for epilepsy?
There are various types of treatments available. The first is drug therapy aimed at preventing seizures. There are numerous medications that can help to reduce abnormal brain activity. For drug therapy to be effective, it is crucial that the patient takes the prescribed medication regularly and maintains good communication with their doctor.
If the tests reveal a structural issue in the brain, such as a tumor or abnormal blood vessels, surgical treatment such as tumor removal may be necessary. If drug therapy is ineffective in controlling epilepsy, and the problematic area in the brain is identified, it may be possible to remove it surgically, as long as it does not serve a critical bodily function.
Another approach may involve implanting an electrical pacemaker or other advanced treatment options that enable seizure control. However, these options may not be suitable for everyone and may be limited in their effectiveness against the condition.