Epilepsy Facts

More than 2.5 million Americans suffer from some type of epilepsy. Epilepsy is defined as any condition that is characterized by seizures. Seizures come in many forms but all have one thing in common, abnormal electrical brain activity. This abnormal activity causes an involuntary change in body movement or function. There are many different kinds of seizures and they vary in intensity and duration. An estimated $ 15.5 billion annually is spent on medical costs and lost wages associated with epilepsy.

Two main types of seizures

The two main types of seizures are primary generalized seizures and partial seizures. Primary generalized seizures include both sides of the brain. Partial seizures include a localized portion of the brain. People with partial seizures often have seizures that go unnoticed by those around them. They may appear to stare off into space or blink rapidly. In contrast, a person having a primary generalized seizure may cry out, have ridged muscle jerks, fall down or appear to pass out.

Not all people who experience seizures have epilepsy. Seizures can be caused by high fever, low blood sugar, withdrawal from drugs or alcohol and as the result of a concussion. People who suffer a seizure from one of these should be treated for the condition not for epilepsy, especially if there is no indication of prior seizures.

It is known that several conditions and events can increase the risk of developing epilepsy. These include oxygen deprivation during birth, brain infections, stroke, certain neurological diseases, brain tumors and genetic disorders. Although we know these factors can increase the risk, in over two thirds of all cases of epilepsy no underlining cause can be identified.

Treatment options

There are several treatment options for those suffering from epilepsy depending on the type and cause. The primary course of action is antiepileptic drugs. There are many different types of drugs available and a healthcare provider will work with the patient to find the best medication that will control the seizures. Close monitoring after starting a medication is necessary to access the drug's effectiveness and to control side effects. About two thirds of all patients treated with drugs are fully controlled.

Surgery is an option for those who suffer from partial epilepsy. Since the abnormal brain activity is localized, surgery to remove the affected area has been shown to less or wholly stop seizures. This type of surgery is commonly used to treat seizures that are focused on the temporal lobe.

When medications are not affective or surgery is not an option, other methods are often considered. An electrical device implanted into the vagus nerve in the neck has been used. Some people find a ketogenic diet, high in fat and low in carbohydrates and calories to be of assistance. Seeing a physician who specializes in epilepsy can help find the best plan of action that works to control seizures and allows the patient to live a normal life.