Epilepsy is a neurological disorder. It’s also classified as a seizure disorder that affects the nervous system. A seizure is a disturbance of the electrical activity in your brain. Not everyone with epilepsy has the same type of seizure and it may affect people differently.
There are multiple kinds of epilepsy, and the two types of epileptic seizures are partial and generalized. Partial seizures, also known as focal seizures, occur in a specific part of the brain and may only affect part of the body. Symptoms of partial seizures include:
Generalized seizures occur all over the brain and can affect the entire body. Symptoms of general seizures include:
In many people the cause of epilepsy is not known. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly two-thirds of epilepsy diagnoses have no known cause. Children are more likely than adults to have epilepsy with no known cause. There are some risk factors that may play a part in developing epilepsy, but a person can have risk factors and never develop the condition. These include:
The CDC states that about 2.3 million adults and more than 467,700 children in the United States are living with epilepsy. Approximately 150,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
An accurate diagnosis is crucial. Without an accurate diagnosis, treatment will be ineffective. The first step a doctor needs to take is to figure out whether the symptoms you describe are due to a seizure. If it is determined that the symptoms are consistent with a seizure, the type of seizure and the cause need to be identified.
The doctor will ask a variety of questions to get a detailed medical history. This can help the doctor rule out certain conditions that are not epilepsy and look for any other underlying medical issues. You or a family member will be asked about what happened before, during, and after a seizure.
Lab tests that are typically done include a complete blood count (CBC). This helps to see if there is an infection or an abnormality in electrolytes, as well as certain genetic disorders or problems with the kidneys that may be causing your seizures. A toxicology screen might also be done to see if there are any drugs or poisons in your blood that can cause seizures. Lumbar puncture can be performed to rule out infections. This involves obtaining cerebrospinal fluid from your lower back by inserting a needle between certain bones of your spine.
According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the most important diagnostic test for epilepsy is an electroencephalogram (EEG). This test records the brain’s electrical activity and monitors for any abnormal spikes or patterns. Various kinds of epilepsy can be diagnosed based on the patterns. Video EEG can also be used during seizures to document what happens in the brain before, during, and after a seizure. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans can help identify where in the brain the abnormal activity is. These imaging tests can also help rule out tumors or other abnormalities.
Once an accurate diagnosis of epilepsy is made, treatment options are explored. Drugs are an important part of epilepsy treatment. Antiepileptic drugs, or anticonvulsants, are effective at controlling seizures in many patients.
Each one carries various side effects and risks. It’s best to talk with your doctor about which medication is best for you. You might have to try different dosages or different medications before finding one that works for you.
Surgery might be an option for people who don’t respond to medication. Typically this is only done after at least two different drugs have been tried, and with people whose seizures have been uncontrolled for at least one year.
Dietary changes can help control epilepsy. Your doctor or nutritionist may prescribe a ketogenic diet. This is a diet that’s high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
Each person is different and what works for one person may not work for another. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and what treatments have worked and what haven’t. They can then construct a treatment plan tailored to your situation.