Epilepsy & Brain Waves
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a complex medical condition that produces seizures. A seizure is a disturbance of the electrical activity in the brain that affects the central nervous system, which may affect some body functions.
The foundation for the diagnosis of epilepsy is two or more unprovoked seizures at any time during a person’s life. The seizures in epilepsy are unprovoked, meaning they are not caused by any other condition or situation.
Examples of conditions or situations that could cause seizures that are not considered epilepsy include: having a high fever, drug or alcohol abuse, serious infection.
Epilepsy vs Seizure
A seizure is a single event.
A person is considered to have epilepsy if he or she has two or more unprovoked seizures.
Anatomy of the Brain
The cerebrum is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. Aside from the hemispheres, the cerebrum is also broken up into four lobes – Frontal, Temporal, Parietal, and Occipital (as shown below). Each of these lobes perform very distinct functions for the body.
Risk Factors Include:
The fastest growing populations with epilepsy are people under the age of 2 and over the age of 65
People with a family history of epilepsy are at a greater risk to develop the condition
Very high fevers can put people at a greater risk of developing epilepsy
Brain infections, tumors, traumatic brain injury and dementia increase the risk of developing epilepsy
Common Seizure Triggers
These triggers generally do not cause seizures in the normal population. However, people affected by epileptic seizures may recognize certain situations that may bring about the onset of a seizure.
• Fevers or other illnesses
• Photosensitivity – flashing bright lights or patterns
• Heavy alcohol or drug use
• Missing medication doses
• Low blood sugar levels, high potassium levels, or excessive caffeine
• Allergic reaction to certain medication
• Lack of sleep
• Hormonal changes (in women)
Possible Signs of Seizures in Children
It is important to notice any abnormal behaviors in your child, record these disturbances, and discuss them with your doctor for a more accurate diagnosis.
• Child suddenly stops what he or she is doing
• Muscles stiffen or spasm
• Sudden loss of tone; child goes limp and falls to the ground
• One or more brief jerks, either one side of the body or both
• Child becomes rigid
• Teeth clenched
• Brief loss of consciousness
• Unresponsiveness for a few seconds
Classifications of Seizures
Classifications of Seizures
Seizures are divided into two categories: partial or generalized. Each seizure type has different classifications depending on the person’s actions during the seizure.
Diagnosing & Testing
Physicians will typically utilize these tests to effectively diagnose a patient who might have epilepsy.
• Clinical evaluation
• General lab testing
• Neurophysiologic studies (e.g., EEG)
• Neuroimaging (e.g., MRI, PET, SPECT)
• Other special tests
What is EEG testing?
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a method to record the electrical activity of the brain using electrodes on the surface of the head. Brain waves have characteristic patterns depending on state of arousal. Seizures are caused by a disturbance in brain activity – which simply means that the normal activity of the brain (and therefore the normal EEG reading) is suddenly interrupted and abnormal activity appears.
A computerized tomography (CT) scan uses low-dose xrays to “see” the brain on a computer monitor. CT scans are useful to see if a seizure cause needs to be treated surgically and right away.
Pharmacologic treatment The foundation to epilepsy treatment is finding the proper anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Once identified, daily adherence to the treatment plan is key. These medications work on different targets in the brain to prevent seizures. There are over 20 different types of medications physicians can use to treat epilepsy.
Non-pharmacologic treatment Some physicians might choose to utilize one of these common forms of treatment, depending on the type of seizures that a patient experiences:
• Vagus nerve stimulator (VNS)
• Ketogenic diet
If you miss a dose or take medicine irregularly, you are at higher risk for having a seizure.
Set a daily reminder on your cell phone or computer to take your medicine
MYTH You can swallow your tongue during a seizure.
REALITY It is physically impossible to swallow your tongue. Additionally, never place an object in a person’s mouth during a seizure. It may injure the teeth or gums or block the airway.
MYTH You should restrain someone having a seizure.
REALITY NEVER restrain a person having a seizure. It will run its course. You may roll the person on his or her side and place something soft behind the head to prevent injury.
MYTH People with epilepsy are disabled.
REALITY Most people with epilepsy can live normal lives. With the proper treatment, their seizures can be managed or reduced. Only certain cases need special care that limits work or driving.
MYTH Only kids have epilepsy.
REALITY Epilepsy can occur at any age, and especially over the age of 60 if the person has other health problems like dementia or stroke.
MYTH If you have had a seizure, then you have epilepsy.
REALITY One seizure does not mean you have epilepsy. You need two or more unprovoked seizures to be diagnosed with epilepsy.
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