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Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes atypical, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.
Epilepsy affects both males and females of all races, backgrounds and ages, with and seizure symptoms can vary widely.
Seizure symptoms among people with epilepsy can vary widely. Some may simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs. Having a single seizure doesn’t mean you have epilepsy.
Treatment with medications or sometimes surgery can control seizures for the majority of people with epilepsy. Some children with epilepsy may outgrow the condition with age, with others requiring lifelong treatment for seizure control.
Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain, seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. Seizure signs and symptoms may include:
- Temporary confusion
- A staring spell
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety or deja vu
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of seizure the person experiences. In most cases, a person with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode.
2017 Revised Classification of Seizures
The basic classification is a simple version of the major categories of seizures. The new basic seizure classification is based on 3 key features:
- Where seizures begin in the brain
- Level of awareness during a seizure
- Other features of seizures
Defining Where Seizures Begin
The first step is to separate seizures by how they begin in the brain. The type of seizure onset is important because it affects choice of seizure medication, possibilities forepilepsy surgery, outlook, and possible causes.
- Focal seizures: Previously called partial seizures, these start in an area or network of cells on one side of the brain.
- Generalized seizures: Previously called primary generalized, these engage or involve networks on both sides of the brain at the onset.
- Unknown onset: If the onset of a seizure is not known, the seizure falls into the unknown onset category. Later on, the seizure type can be changed if the beginning of a person’s seizures becomes clear.
- Focal to bilateral seizure: A seizure that starts in one side or part of the brain and spreads to both sides has been called a secondary generalized seizures. Now the term generalized refers only to the start of a seizure. The new term for secondary generalized seizure would be a focal to bilateral seizure.
Causes of Epilepsy
Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half the people with the condition. In the other half, the condition may be traced to various factors, including:
- Genetic influence. Some types of epilepsy, categorized by the type of seizure you experience or the part of the brain affected, run in families. In these cases, it’s likely that there’s a genetic influence.
- Researchers have linked some types of epilepsy to specific genes. But for most people, genes are only part of the cause of epilepsy. Certain genes may make a person more sensitive to environmental conditions that trigger seizures.
- Head trauma. Head trauma as a result of a car accident or other traumatic injury can cause epilepsy.
- Brain conditions. Brain conditions causing injury, such as brain tumors or strokes, can cause epilepsy. Stroke is a leading cause of epilepsy in adults older than age 35.
- Infectious diseases. Infectious diseases, such as meningitis, AIDS and viral encephalitis, can cause epilepsy.
- Prenatal injury. Before birth, babies are sensitive to brain damage that could be caused by several factors, such as an infection in the mother, poor nutrition or oxygen deficiencies. This brain damage can result in epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
- Developmental disorders. Epilepsy can sometimes be associated with developmental disorders, such as autism and neurofibromatosis.