Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the brain and causes seizures. Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain that can cause changes in behavior, movements, or consciousness.
Types of seizures
The different types of seizures can be classified into two main categories: generalized seizures and focal seizures.
Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain and can cause a loss of consciousness. Some types of generalized seizures include:
- Absence seizures typically last only a few seconds and involve staring into space.
- Tonic-clonic seizures involve muscle stiffness (tonic phase) followed by muscle jerks (clonic phase) and loss of consciousness.
- Myoclonic seizures cause sudden, brief muscle jerks.
- Atonic seizures cause a sudden loss of muscle tone, which can lead to falls.
Focal seizures, also known as partial seizures, only affect one part of the brain. There are two types of focal seizures:
- Focal aware seizures do not involve a loss of consciousness and may cause sensory or emotional changes.
- Focal impaired awareness seizures involve a loss of consciousness and can cause confusion or staring spells.
Common triggers for seizures
- Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality
- Stress or anxiety
- Hormonal changes, such as during menstruation or menopause
- Flickering lights or patterns (known as photosensitivity)
- Certain medications or drug interactions
- Alcohol or drug use
- Illness or fever
- Dehydration or low blood sugar
- Skipping meals or fasting
- Overexertion or exhaustion
Types of epilepsy
- Idiopathic generalized epilepsy (IGE): This type of epilepsy is thought to be caused by genetic factors and involves generalized seizures.
- Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME): JME typically begins in adolescence and involves myoclonic seizures, as well as other types of seizures.
- Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE): TLE is the most common type of focal epilepsy and involves seizures that originate in the temporal lobe of the brain.
- Frontal lobe epilepsy (FLE): FLE involves seizures that originate in the frontal lobe of the brain and can cause a wide range of symptoms.
- Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS): LGS is a rare and severe form of epilepsy that typically begins in childhood and involves multiple seizure types.
- Dravet syndrome: Dravet syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that typically begins in infancy and involves multiple seizure types.
- Absence epilepsy: This type of epilepsy involves brief, non-convulsive seizures that can cause staring spells and brief loss of consciousness.
- Medical history: Your primary care provider will ask you questions about your symptoms, such as the frequency, duration, and type of seizures you have experienced. They will also ask about your medical history, including any previous head injuries, infections, or other medical conditions that could be related to epilepsy.
- Physical examination: Your doctor will perform a physical exam to look for any physical signs of seizures, such as muscle spasms, and to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
- Neurological examination: Your doctor may also perform a neurological exam to evaluate your reflexes, muscle strength, coordination, and sensory function. They may also test your memory and other cognitive functions.
- Diagnostic tests: Your neurologist may order one or more diagnostic tests to help diagnose epilepsy. These tests may include:
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): A test that records the electrical activity of your brain to detect abnormal brain activity that may be related to seizures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A test that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of your brain to look for any structural abnormalities.
- Blood tests: A test that checks for any underlying medical conditions or infections that may be causing your symptoms.
It's important to work closely with your doctor, like a St. Joseph Health neurologist, to get an accurate diagnosis of epilepsy. Treatment options and management strategies may vary depending on the type and severity of epilepsy, so an accurate diagnosis is critical to effective treatment.
Treatment options for epilepsy
There are several treatment options for epilepsy, and the best option for you will depend on the type and severity of your seizures. Here are some common treatment options:
- Medication: Antiepileptic medications can be effective in preventing seizures for many people with epilepsy. There are many different types of medications, and your doctor will work with you to find the medication that is most effective and has the fewest side effects for you.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be an option to remove the part of the brain causing seizures. This is typically only considered for people who have seizures that are not controlled with medication.
- Vagus nerve stimulation: This is a type of therapy that involves implanting a device under the skin of your chest that sends electrical impulses to the brain through the vagus nerve in the neck. This can help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures for some people.
- Ketogenic diet: This is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has been shown to reduce seizures in some people with epilepsy, particularly children.
- Responsive neurostimulation: This is a new type of therapy that involves implanting a device into the brain that can detect when a seizure is starting and deliver electrical stimulation to stop the seizure before it occurs.
It's important to work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you based on your individual needs and circumstances.