Epilepsy is a condition in which people have epileptic attacks (also known as seizures). It is one of the more common neurological conditions, affecting 0.5-1 per cent of the population. Epilepsy is not a single condition, but a group of conditions with differing causes, treatments and prognoses Epilepsy is not a single medical condition in itself. It is a symptom of a range of other conditions that cause somebody to have repeated fits, which are also known as seizures.
There are many signs and symptoms of epilepsy. In many cases, the symptoms are unnoticeable. The most common symptom is a seizure. Seizures are classified as grand mal or petit mal. Grand mal seizures may consist of rapid pulse, whole body spasms, jerking muscles, biting of the tongue, bladder and bowel incontinence, and dilated pupils. Petit mal seizures are less severe and typically include temporary lack of awareness. Sufferers may appear to have a blank expression on their face, or temporarily “space out.” Once the seizure concludes, the sufferer is usually unaware of their previous condition. For this reason, petit mal seizures can often overlooked.
Causes of seizures (and sometimes epilepsy) are further divided into acute and remote causes. This subclassification depends on whether there is active brain disease (an acute cause) or whether the brain abnormality is the result of an injury caused by a previous event (in which case it would be called remote). For example, if a child with meningitis experiences seizures during the illness, they would be termed acute symptomatic seizures. If that same child developed seizures that persisted for years afterwards, she would be diagnosed as having remote symptomatic epilepsy
Epilepsy stems from dozens of causes: genetics, heredity, brain tumours, viral infections, head trauma from accidents or falls, alchoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, trauma during birth, strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, AIDS, poison or environmental conditions, nicotine from cigarette smoke, overmedicating from certain types of drugs, hormonal changes and even lack of sleep. Epilepsy is also associated with other disorders like autism, TB, and cerebral palsy. This is one reason why the disease is often difficult to diagnose, and why, for some, it remains such a confusing disease.
Many people have their seizures successfully controlled with anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). This is the most common way that epilepsy is treated. AEDs do not cure epilepsy. At the moment there is no cure for epilepsy. The aim of AEDs is to prevent seizures by controlling the excitability of the brain. How they do this is not totally understood. Despite this, their effectiveness in treating epilepsy has been scientifically proven.
Vagus nerve stimulation
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can reduce seizures in some people. This is when an electrical device, implanted in the chest, regularly stimulates a nerve in your neck called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve then sends signals to areas of the brain. This treatment is only available if other medicines haven’t helped and neurosurgery (brain surgery) isn’t possible.
You may be offered neurosurgery if your epilepsy is severe and is not controlled after trying several different epilepsy medicines. This can only take place if the epilepsy is associated with a specific area of your brain. Your specialist will be able to explain your options to you.