Epilepsy – The Silent Stalker
By Steven Voskanian
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy, also called seizure disorder, chronic brain disorder that briefly interrupts the normal electrical activity of the brain to cause seizures, characterized by a variety of symptoms including uncontrolled movements of the body, disorientation or confusion, sudden fear, or loss of consciousness. Epilepsy may result from a head injury, stroke, brain tumor, lead poisoning, genetic conditions, or severe infections like meningitis or encephalitis. In over 70 percent of cases no cause for epilepsy were identified. About 1 percent of the world population, or over 2 million people, are diagnosed with epilepsy.
How this shocking and loathsome disorder is detected.
In persons suffering from epilepsy, the brain waves, electrical activity in the part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, have a characteristically abnormal rhythm produced by excessive electrical discharges in the nerve cells. Because these wave patterns differ markedly according to their specific source, a recording of the brain waves, known as an electroencephalogram (EEG) is important in the diagnosis and study of the disorder. Diagnosis also requires a thorough medical history describing seizure characteristics and frequency.
Epileptic seizures vary in intensity and symptoms depending on what part of the brain is involved. In partial seizures, the most common form of seizure in adults, only one area of the brain is involved. Partial seizures are classified as simple partial, complex partial, and absence (or petit mal) seizures.
People who have simple partial seizures may experience unusual sensations such as uncontrollable jerky motions of a body part, sight or hearing impairment, sudden sweating or flushing, nausea, and feelings of fear.
Complex partial seizures, also called temporal lobe epilepsy, last for only one or two minutes. The individual may appear to be in a trance and moves randomly with no control over body movements. The individual’s activity does not cease during the seizure, but behavior is random and totally unrelated to the individual’s surroundings. This form of seizure may be preceded by an aura (a warning sensation characterized by feelings of fear, abdominal discomfort, dizziness, or strange odors and sensations).
Absence seizures, rare in adults, are characterized by a sudden, momentary loss or impairment of consciousness. Overt symptoms are often as slight as an upward staring of the eyes, a staggering gait, or a twitching of the facial muscles. No aura occurs and the person often resumes activity without realizing that the seizure has occurred.
In a second type of epilepsy, known as generalized seizure, tonic clonic, grand mal, or convulsion, the whole brain is involved. This type of seizure is often characterized by an involuntary scream, caused by contraction of the muscles that control breathing. As loss of consciousness sets in, the entire body is gripped by a jerking muscular contraction. The face reddens, breathing stops, and the back arches. Then, alternate contractions and relaxations of the muscles throw the body into sometimes violent agitation such that the person may be subject to serious injury. After the convulsion subsides, the person is exhausted and may sleep heavily. Confusion, nausea, and sore muscles are often experienced, and the individual may have no memory of the seizure. Attacks occur at varying intervals, in some people as seldom as once a year and in others as frequently as several times a day. About 8 percent of those subject to generalized seizures may have status epilepticus, in which seizures occur successively with no intervening periods of consciousness. These attacks may be fatal unless treated promptly with the drug diazepam.
Treatment for an Incurable Disorder
There is no cure for epilepsy but symptoms of the disorder may be treated with drugs, surgery, or a special diet. Drug therapy is the most common treatment—seizures can be prevented or their frequency lessened in 80 to 85 percent of cases by drugs known as anticonvulsants or antiepileptics. Surgery is used when drug treatments fail and the brain tissue causing the seizures is confined to one area and can safely be removed. A special high-fat diet known as a ketogenic diet produces a chemical condition in the body called ketosis that helps prevent seizures in young children. Like any medical condition, epilepsy is effected by general health. Regular exercise, plenty of rest, and efforts to reduce stress can all have a positive effect on a person with a seizure disorder.
First aid for generalized seizures involves protecting the individual by clearing the area of sharp or hard objects, providing soft cushioning for the head, such as a pillow or folded jacket and, if necessary, turning the individual on the side to keep his or her airway clear. The individual having a seizure should not be restrained and the mouth should not be forced open. It is not true that a person having a seizure can swallow the tongue. If the individual having the seizure is known to have epilepsy or is wearing epilepsy identification jewelry, an ambulance should only be called if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, another seizure closely follows the first, or the person cannot be awakened after the jerking movements subside.