Epilepsy is a general term used for a group of disorders that cause disturbances in electrical signaling in the brain. Like an office building or a computer, the brain is a highly complex electrical system, powered by roughly 80 pulses of energy per second. These pulses move back and forth between nerve cells to produce thoughts, feelings, and memories.
An epileptic seizure occurs when these energy pulses come much more rapidly-as many as 500 per second for a short time-due to an electrical abnormality in the brain. This brief electrical surge can happen in just a small area of the brain, or it can affect the whole brain. Depending on the part of the brain that is affected, the surge of electrical energy can cause:
- Changes in a person's sensations
or state of consciousness.
- Uncontrolled movements of certain
parts of the body or of the whole body.
These changes are known as an epileptic seizure.
- Epilepsy is also known as a
seizure disorder because the tendency is to have recurrent seizures.
- Epileptic seizures vary in
severity and frequency, and even in the time of day they occur.
- While some people may experience
no more than two or three seizures during their entire lifetime, others
will have several seizures in one day.
Does Everyone Who Has A Seizure Have Epilepsy?
A seizure is a symptom of epilepsy, but not all seizures are caused by epilepsy.
A seizure not related to epilepsy can be caused by a reaction to:
- A drug
- A high fever
- A severe head injury
- Other disorders such diabetes,
some heart conditions, and narcolepsy, among others.
Sometimes people have a single seizure for which no cause can ever be found.
Several conditions or behaviors mimic epilepsy but are not epilepsy.
- Epilepsy is not a fainting
- Epilepsy cannot be caused by
holding the breath. Some children act out by holding their breath until
they faint. This is not epilepsy.
- Epilepsy is not momentary
confusion, forgetfulness, or a lack of concentration.
- Epilepsy is not catatonia, a
specific type of schizophrenia characterized by stupor and bizarre
Epilepsy is not contagious. A tendency toward epilepsy may be inherited, but it cannot be caught like a cold from another person.
epilepsy a mental illness?
Epilepsy is not a form of mental illness and it does not cause mental
epilepsy a sign of reduced intelligence?
Epilepsy is not an indicator of intelligence. Epilepsy affects
people of average intelligence as well as those above and below average. Some
people with mental retardation may have epilepsy, but most people with
epilepsy are not mentally retarded.
than a few people known for their intelligence have had epilepsy, most
notably Julius Caesar and Napoleon, Charles
Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Socrates and Alfred
Nobel, inventor of dynamite and creator of the Nobel Prize.
What Brings On An Epileptic Seizure?
Seizures can be sparked by a variety of stimuli, including:
- Lights that flash at a certain
- The flicker of a television screen
or TV monitor
- A sudden loud noise or repetitive
- Alcohol consumption
- Cigarette smoking
- Lack of sleep
- Having a bad day
- Some people with epilepsy have
seizures only during their sleep.
Sexual activity does not trigger seizures.
But seizures can also occur seemingly for no reason at all.
Epilepsy Be Life-threatening?
can be dangerous, particularly if a condition called status
epilepticus occurs. This is a serious situation in which a person
has prolonged seizures or does not fully regain consciousness between
doctors define status epilepticus as a seizure that lasts for more than five
minutes. More conservative doctors define the condition as a seizure lasting
10 or even 30 minutes. Without emergency attention, this condition can cause
permanent brain damage or be fatal.
the importance of taking the medication prescribed.
- About a third of status
epilepticus events are triggered when a person stops taking
- Status epilepticus can by
triggered by sudden withdrawal of certain antiepileptic drugs.
- About a third of the time, it is
the first sign of a seizure disorder. It can also follow stroke,
poisoning, high fever, or low blood sugar in people with diabetes.
epilepticus affects over 100,000 people in the United States each year and
causes about 50,000 deaths.
- About two million people in the
United States have epilepsy or have had a seizure at some point in their
- About 75% of people with
epilepsy had their first seizures in childhood.
- Epilepsy was first mentioned
more than 3,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. It was thought to be an
attack by demons or gods.
- The Greek physician Hippocrates
first suggested, about 400 BCE, that epilepsy was a disorder of the
- Bromides were the first drugs to
be used effectively against epilepsy. Their use was introduced in 1857
by Charles Locock.
- More than 30 different types of
seizures have been described.
- Some researchers have estimated
that as many as 500 different genes could be linked to epilepsy.