What is Epilepsy? Causes and Symptoms

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Epilepsy is a condition where the brain or some part of it is overactive and sends too many signals. This results in seizures causing few muscles to twitch or whole-body convulsions. Shaking uncontrollably and leading to an unconscious state is a common sign of epilepsy.

Seizures differ from person to person, some can be generalized affecting the whole brain and some are localized where only part of the brain is affected.

Epilepsy usually affects at extremes of age: small children or elderly. Many children get over this condition with age.

What causes epilepsy/seizures?

The normal functioning of our brain is controlled by certain organised electric currents. When these currents become suddenly abnormal, they may lead to seizures. Such abnormal currents are generated due to damage to the ‘cerebral cortex’ which is a superficial area of the brain, due to:

  • Head injury due to accident
  • Damage to a baby’s brain during delivery
  • Genetic disorders and malformation in the brain
  • Infection of the brain such as meningitis, encephalitis, and neurocysticercosis, Stroke, Brain tumour. 

Sometimes, an abnormality of the brain cells may also result in epilepsy, even in the absence of any external damage.

What are the symptoms of epilepsy?

The severity of convulsions or the fits usually depends on the location of abnormal current or the area of brain affected. Accordingly, the different types of seizures are:

Generalised seizure:
The current affects the entire brain.
The person may fall on the ground, shake all over and becomes stiff.
Frothing from the mouth, involuntary urination, and tongue biting may also occur.
This is usually followed by a period of confusion

Partial seizure:
This kind of seizure occurs when the abnormal currents are limited to a small portion of brain.
The person is generally conscious but may have minor symptoms like abnormal jerking of limbs.
When people have partial seizures it causes an abnormal sensation, loss of awareness, and the person hears, sees, or smells things differently.

They may also feel dizzy, feel anxious, or hallucinate. This is known as an aura. Some people also smack their lips, grimace, stammer, walk around aimlessly, or fiddle with things. Partial seizures may be accompanied by twitching or convulsions. Sometimes partial seizures affect your awareness or ability to concentrate.

It will be diagnosed as epilepsy if - at least two seizures have occurred, or there was a period of at least 24 hours between the seizures, and there is nothing to suggest that the seizures were caused by certain factors. Physical and neurological examinations are done, and a blood sample is taken.

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is also usually done to measure the electrical activity of your brain.

Epilepsy is usually treated with medications known as anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). People who decide to take medication usually take it for several years. If they don't have any seizures during that time, some people can stop taking the medication and see what happens. Others have to take medication for the rest of their lives.

Credits: yashodahospital; Rashimi Byakhodi

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