Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the central nervous system, which causes unprovoked, recurrent seizures or periods of abnormal behaviour, sensations and loss of awareness and surroundings. Epilepsy occurs due to a problem in the electrical activity of the brain. This, in turn, causes disturbances in the messaging between cells of the brain. Epilepsy can affect anyone belonging to any gender, age, race or ethnicity. Moreover, the symptoms of epilepsy – the most common being seizures – are experienced at different levels and intensity among different people. Some people blankly stare during a seizure; others twitch their arms or legs; some lose consciousness; and so on. A single seizure does not categorise a person as epileptic, at least two unprovoked seizures are required to confirm epilepsy.

While some children outgrown the condition on their own, adults might require treatment such as medications or surgery. Some people might also need to take life-long medications to control seizures.

Symptoms of Epilepsy

The most typical indication of epilepsy is a seizure; hence, the symptoms of seizures include:

  • Temporary and unexplained confusion
  • Lost in a staring spell
  • Hysterical fast jerking of the arms and legs
  • Loss of awareness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Psychic issues and feelings such as fear, anxiety, flashbacks, and more

Symptoms vary by person and also on the type of seizure being experienced by the person.

However, in most cases, a person experiences only one type of seizure each time; hence, symptoms are stable at least across episodes.  

Types of Seizures

Two basic types of seizures occur in a person who has epilepsy. These are: 

Focal Seizures: Focal seizures occur because of abnormal activity in only one part of the brain. These seizures are further categorised into two sub-categories:

  • Focal seizures with impaired consciousness: These are complex seizures that impair a person’s awareness. During this type of seizure, a person might blankly stare at anything mostly into space and lose track of the surroundings; the person stops responding to anything around him and starts performing an activity repeatedly.
  • Focal seizures without loss of consciousness: These are simple seizures that do not involve loss of consciousness instead make a person respond differently to normal activities and emotions. A person experiencing this type of seizure can make abnormal, uncontrolled hand and leg movement.

Generalised seizures: Seizures that affect all areas of the brain are called generalised seizures.

These are further divided into six categories:

  • Absence seizures: Absence seizures in most cases impact children and include symptoms such as staring into space or noticeable body actions such as continuous eye blinking or lip-smacking.
  • Tonic seizures: These seizures tend to stiffen the muscles of the back, arms and legs in people, and can even make them fall on the ground.
  • Atonic seizures: Also called the drop seizures, these seizures make a person lose control of the muscles, causing them to collapse or fall suddenly.
  • Clonic seizures: These seizures usually impact the neck, face and the arms of a person causing recurring or rhythmic, jerking muscle actions.
  • Myoclonic seizures: These are brief seizures characterized by sudden jerks or twitches of arms and legs.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures: Tonic-clonic seizures are the most dangerous type of seizure that may cause sudden loss of consciousness, stiffening of the entire body, excessive shaking and even loss of bladder control. A person in this seizure may also harm itself or start biting its tongue.

A person must call for immediate help if these seizures last for more than 5 minutes, and if any of the following conditions apply:

  • No sign of breathing or return of consciousness even after the seizure
  • Consistent seizures
  • High fever
  • Heat exhaustion.
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Injury occurs during the seizure 

Causes of Epilepsy

The exact origin of epilepsy cannot be traced in many people; while in other some of the below factors cause epilepsy and resultant seizures. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Trauma to the head
  • Brain tumours
  • Strokes
  • Infectious diseases such as AIDS, meningitis, etc.
  • Prenatal injury or deficiency
  • Developmental disorders

Risk Factors 

Certain factors put some people at higher risk of epilepsy than others. These include:

  • Age – mostly children and older adults, though it can occur at any age
  • Family history
  • Head injuries
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Dementia
  • Brain disorders or infections
  • High fever complications in childhood 

Complications

A seizure because of epilepsy can occur unprovoked and at any time during the day. Some of the complications that may arise because of a seizure include:

  • Falling and causing injury to the head or bones
  • Drowning
  • Suffering an accident
  • Complications in pregnancy
  • Emotional health problems 

Moreover, the other two serious complications that may arise because of epilepsy are:

  • Status epilepticus – A condition that can cause permanent brain damage and death because of continued seizures for more than 5 minutes or recurrent seizures, leaving no gap to return to normalcy.
  • Sudden death: A person suffering a seizure can suddenly die if the condition of epilepsy is accompanied with other chronic health problems such as heart diseases, etc.

Epilepsy is a very critical problem that can cause life-threatening and severe complications.

Awareness and adequate treatment can prove effective in managing the symptoms.