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Epilepsy disrupts electrical signals in the brain. The main symptom of epilepsy is a seizure. A person having a seizure may react in different ways:
- Stare blankly for a few seconds
- Have a convulsion
Having one seizure doesn't mean you have epilepsy. There are other causes of seizures, such as high fevers in children. Once you've had two seizures with no obvious cause (such as high fever) epilepsy may be the cause.
Usually, epilepsy starts during childhood or after age 65. Often children with epilepsy outgrow the condition. There are treatments that can eliminate, or at least reduce, seizures in epileptic patients.
Causes of Epilepsy:
Often, epilepsy can be caused by an accident (such as a head injury), disease or medical trauma (like a stroke) that injures the brain or deprives it of oxygen. Some forms of epilepsy run in families, but genetics seem to play only a small role in epilepsy. For half of all people with epilepsy, there is no known cause.
The first step in diagnosing epilepsy is a clinical exam. Your doctor will check electrical signals in the brain using an EEG (electroencephalogram.) You may need to wear an EEG recorder for several days to get the data needed for a diagnosis.
Other tests that can help diagnose epilepsy:
- Blood chemistry
- Blood sugar
- CBC (complete blood count)
- Kidney function tests
- Liver function tests
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
- Tests for infectious diseases
- Head CT or MRI scan
What does a seizure look like? It seems that each individual epileptic patient has the same kind of seizure each time. However, seizures vary from patient to patient and can include:
- Total loss of consciousness
- Temporary confusion
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of arms and legs
Seizures are classified in two ways:
- Partial or focal seizures occur in just one part of the brain
- Generalized seizures start in one part of the brain and spread through the rest of the brain
Seek immediate medical help if:
- The seizure lasts more than five minutes
- You are slow to recover from the seizure
- A second seizure follows rapidly
- You're pregnant or have diabetes
- Your seizures change in severity or frequency
- There's a change in how you feel during and after the seizures
- Before the seizure you have a sudden, severe headache or other symptoms of stroke like weakness or numbness on one side of your body, speech problems, vision loss, etc.
Most people with epilepsy can control their seizures with medicine. Sometimes brain surgery is necessary in patients with uncontrollable seizures.
What to do if you see someone having a seizure:
- Gently roll the person onto his or her side and put something under the head
- Loosen tight neckwear
- Don't put your fingers or anything else in the person's mouth
- Don't try to restrain the person having the seizure or try to "wake" him by shouting or shaking the person
- Clear away dangerous objects that the person could grab
- Look for a medical alert bracelet
- Stay with the person until medical help arrives