Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system. It occurs when nerve cell activity in the brain is disrupted, resulting in seizures, unusual behaviors or sensations, and sometimes a loss of consciousness. It is the fourth most common nervous system disorder and can affect people of all ages.
A single seizure does not mean someone has epilepsy. This condition is defined by multiple, unpredictable seizures.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care in diagnosing and treating epilepsy. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of epileptic seizures include:
- A staring spell
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Muscle twitches or spasms
- Strange smells or tastes, unnoticed by others
- Sudden, intense emotions
- Temporary confusions
- Tingling sensations
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms or legs
- Visual disturbances
To diagnose epilepsy, a physician will evaluate symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to confirm the diagnosis, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Blood tests: These can check for signs of infection, genetic conditions or other problems that may be causing seizures.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan: This test uses X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of the brain and can reveal abnormalities that might be causing seizures, such as tumors, bleeding and cysts.
Depth electrode sampling: In this test, electrodes are placed directly on the surface of the brain to record electrical activity and better pinpoint the origin of seizures.
Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG records the electrical activity of the brain via a series of electrodes attached to the scalp.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create a detailed view of the brain. It can detect lesions or abnormalities that could lead to seizures and measure changes in brain blood flow.
Neurological examination: A physician can administer tests to assess motor abilities, mental function, behavior, memory, speech and more to identify epilepsy and determine which areas of the brain are affected.
Positron emission tomography (PET): These scans use a small amount of low-dose radioactive material injected into a vein to help visualize active areas of the brain and detect abnormalities.
In many cases, epilepsy has no identifiable cause. When a cause is identified, it is rarely related to behaviors or other lifestyle factors.
Risk factors that may contribute to epilepsy include:
Brain conditions: Brain tumors, strokes and other conditions that damage the brain can lead to epilepsy.
Developmental disorders: Some people with autism, neurofibromatosis and other developmental disorders also have epilepsy.
Dementia: This can increase the risk of epilepsy in older adults.
Genetic influence: Some types of epilepsy run in families.
Head trauma: Severe head trauma from an accident or traumatic injury can trigger epilepsy.
Infectious diseases: Certain diseases – like meningitis, AIDS and viral encephalitis – can damage the brain and lead to epilepsy.
Prenatal injury: Brain damage in the womb – resulting from factors like maternal infection, malnutrition or oxygen deficiencies – can cause epilepsy.
Epilepsy cannot be prevented.
Most people with epilepsy can control their symptoms and lead relatively normal lives with the right treatment. Epilepsy that begins in childhood often has a better prognosis than epilepsy that begins in adolescence or adulthood. People with severe epilepsy (frequent seizures) or coexisting neurological problems may have less favorable outcomes.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment of epilepsy may include:
Most people with epilepsy can become seizure-free, or decrease the intensity and frequency of their seizures, by taking anti-seizure medications, either a single drug or as a combination.
Surgery is prescribed if tests show that seizures originate in a small, well-defined area of the brain that doesn’t interfere with vital functions. In this case, the surgeon can remove that small area to stop or decrease symptoms.
Some people with epilepsy benefit from vagus nerve stimulation, in which a physician inserts a device similar to a heart pacemaker under the skin of the chest. This battery-powered device sends bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve to the brain, inhibiting seizures.
Some alternatives to medication or surgery have proven effective. These include a ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet that reduces seizures in some children with epilepsy.
Epileptic seizures can cause complications including:
Car accidents: A seizure that causes loss of consciousness, awareness or control can be dangerous while driving.
Drowning: Experiencing a seizure in the water can make a person with epilepsy more likely to drown than someone in the general population.
Emotional issues: Depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts are more common in people with epilepsy.
Falls: Losing consciousness or muscle control during a seizure can cause falling that leads to broken bones or head injuries.
Pregnancy complications: Seizures during pregnancy pose dangers to mother and baby, and certain anti-epileptic medications increase the risk of birth defects.
Sudden death: Though rare, people with epilepsy have a small risk of sudden, unexplained death.
Brain tumors or metastasis.
Mesial temporal sclerosis, the loss of neurons and scarring on the inner portions of the temporal lobe of the brain
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