What is epilepsy? According to modern ideas, epilepsy is a group of different diseases, the main manifestation of epileptic seizures. Based on the achievements of contemporary science, it has been shown that an epileptic seizure occurs as a result of the disorder processes of excitation and inhibition in the cells of the cerebral cortex. The brain consists of a dense plexus of nerve cells interconnected. Cells convert the excitation perceived by the senses into an electrical impulse and transmit it further in the form of electrical stimulation. Therefore, an epileptic seizure can be compared with an electrical discharge like a thunderstorm.
Not all seizures are epilepsy. Anyone can experience seizures at least once in certain situations, for example, at a high temperature (febrile convulsions), after vaccination, with severe traumatic brain injury. The diagnosis of “epilepsy” can be established if a person has two or more epileptic seizures without apparent provoking factors. There are specific characterological features and signs of epilepsy, which we will discuss below. So, to more clearly understand what this disease is, read our article.
Causes for Epilepsy
The causes for symptomatic epilepsy can be associated with various brain damage:
- Congenital anomalies of its development;
- Various brain injuries;
- Viral and parasitic diseases that affect the brain, such as meningitis;
- The occurrence of tumors and abscesses in the brain;
- Insufficient blood supply to the brain and oxygen starvation;
- Antiphospholipid syndrome;
- Taking certain drugs for depression and mental disorders, antibiotics;
- Regular use of chemical medications;
- Intrauterine infections and chromosomal syndromes;
- Birth damage to the central nervous system.
An important role belongs to hereditary predisposition. It has been noted that in those families with relatives who have epilepsy, the likelihood of developing epilepsy in a child is higher than in those families where the relatives do not have diseases. In recent years, the hereditary nature of several forms of epilepsy has been convincingly proven, and the genes responsible for their occurrence have been discovered.
At the same time, the opinion that epilepsy is necessarily inherited is erroneous. In the vast majority of cases, epilepsy is not a hereditary disease. So it is not transmitted from father or mother to child. Many forms of epilepsy are caused by a combination of genetic and acquired factors. The contribution of genetic factors is significant but not decisive.
There are also cases where it is not possible to determine the cause of epilepsy using magnetic resonance. Such epilepsy is called idiopathic or cryptogenic epilepsy. It is the most common type of this disease. It may be caused by hidden genetic diseases. The first attack in patients suffering from this disease usually occurs at 14 years.
Symptoms of Epilepsy
The general symptoms of epilepsy can be summarized in a series of successive stages of the disease:
- Harbingers (a headache, a feeling of discomfort, irritability, etc.);
- Aura (hallucinations);
- The tonic phase of a seizure (consciousness loss);
- Clonic phase (development of a classic convulsive seizure).
- Harbingers. This includes a headache, discomfort, dissatisfaction with one’s own condition, irritability, a decrease in mood, and a decrease in working abilities.
- Aura. May manifest as hallucinations. In this phase, a person can see various images, which most often have a frightening character. In addition to various visual images, auditory hallucinations may also occur, and unpleasant odors may be felt.
- The tonic-clonic phase of a seizure. Suddenly, a person loses consciousness, all muscles are very tense, but convulsions do not yet occur. He falls abruptly to the floor, almost always biting his tongue. A very characteristic cry is emitted during the fall, which occurs when the respiratory muscles compress the chest due to its tonic tension. The patient stops breathing. The skin first turns pale and then acquires a shade like a bruise. Possible involuntary urination and defecation can occur. Pupillary reaction to light is completely absent. This phase lasts no more than one minute and death can occur from respiratory arrest with a longer course.
- Clonic phase. It is characterized by the development of a classic convulsive seizure. Breathing is fully recovered. Foam comes out of the patient’s mouth with small amounts of blood mixed in. The phase lasts 2–3 minutes. When seizures occur as a result of abnormal activity in only one area of the brain, they are called focal.
Focal seizures can be divided into the following categories:
|Name of category
|Description of the seizure
|Simple partials (aura)
|A common symptom of such seizures are anxiety, smelling extraneous odors, and seeing spots before the eyes. By the aura, many patients determine the proximity of an attack and manage to take measures so as not to be injured in the event of a fall.
|Complex partial (psychomotor or temporal lobe epilepsy)
|The attack proceeds in 3 phases. In the first stage, the patient stops his activity for a few seconds. Then aimless actions begin: a person can take off or put on clothes, unfasten and fasten buttons, fiddle with fingers, smack his lips. In the third phase, consciousness returns but is still confused. After a short period of disorientation, the person may resume the activity.
This kind of epilepsy is characterized by increased activity of nerve cells in both hemispheres of the brain. Among them are the following:
|Name of attack
|Description of the seizure
|Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal)
|During an attack, the patient has convulsions in which the body tenses up, the neck stretches, and the jaws are strongly compressed. The arms are bent at the elbows, and the legs are sharply straightened.
|Absence of seizures (petit mal)
|Seizure symptoms often occur with epilepsy in children. From the side, the child looks like a dreamer who sits motionless and looks at one point for a long time, blinking often.
|Attacks are short-term, manifested by twitching of individual muscle groups on both sides of the body.
|Almost all muscle groups are tensed and contracted at the same time. It becomes difficult for a person to breathe, and the eyeballs roll-up. The attack lasts a few seconds.
|Spasms and twitches occur repeatedly. This type of epilepsy is rare.
|Atonic seizures (drop seizures, drop attacks)
|The person feels weak, and cannot move independently but remains conscious. He may fall if muscle control is lost.
The risk factors are pretty similar to the causes of epilepsy. Among them are:
- Features of genetics
- Head injuries
- Bad habits
- Body strain
- Tumors, benign and malignant
- Brain damage due to stroke
- Infectious diseases of the brain
- Anomalies of the gestation period, congenital pathology
- Birth trauma
- Feverish conditions
- Metabolic disorders
Let’s look closer at these symptoms:
- Features of genetics. Initially, congenital pathology is a manifestation of a mutation in the human genetic code. However, it has not yet been possible to determine whether such changes are inherited reliably.
- Head injuries. Traumatic brain injury, with significant damage to the brain’s matter, can lead to the formation of electrical activity foci and then to the development of post-traumatic epileptic seizures.
- Bad habits. The use of narcotic substances and large amounts of alcohol also negatively affects the brain’s functioning.
- Body strain. This includes stress, emotional overstrain, overwork, and sudden changes in climatic conditions in the region of residence.
- Tumors, benign and malignant. Neoplasms compress the brain tissue and change their position. The result is seizures similar to epileptic seizures attacks.
- Brain damage due to stroke.
- Infectious diseases of the brain and adjacent tissues lead to inflammatory processes in the cortex and subsequent disturbances in its work.
- Anomalies of the gestation period, congenital pathology. If the mother does not follow healthy recommendations and leads a dangerous lifestyle for the fetus, then the consequences may manifest as an illness in the child.
- Birth trauma, for example – damage to the skull during childbirth.
- Feverish conditions, temperature with infections, and other painful conditions.
- Metabolic disorders result in severe nutritional and mineral deficiencies.
Epilepsy affects about 50 million people worldwide, and it’s mostly people at an early and late age. In children, epilepsy occurs much more often than in adults, which is associated with the characteristics of the nervous system. Excitation occurs in the cerebral cortex faster and easier, and recovery is more complicated.
Triggers of Epileptic Seizure
There are such reasons for seizures:
- Stress. Almost everyone knows that stress is the cause of most diseases.
- Unexpected situation. It includes surprises, news, or other sudden changes in activities.
- Other triggers. There are also individual triggers. For example, the brain may overreact to loud music or a strong smell.
- Sleep deprivation. It also applies to getting up too early and generally not following the optimal sleep schedule.
Patients who have a certain disease experience understand what kind of their condition can provoke seizures. For some people, even a relaxed state can cause seizures. So they try to keep themselves busy with something constantly.
For example, in photosensitivity epilepsy, provocative moments are:
- Sun glare
- Glare from the water
- Flickering sunlight
- When a person is on a train
In this type of illness, these triggers should be avoided. Doctors recommend wearing sunglasses with a blue coating. The main recommendation for patients with epilepsy is to adhere to the daily regimen, not go to bed late, avoid sleep deprivation, acute stressful situations, as well as alcohol, and, of course, have a healthy lifestyle.
Complications of Epileptic Attacks
Refusal to seek qualified help from a doctor can cause some severe pathological changes in the patient’s body:
- Status epilepticus
- The state of aspiration pneumonia
- Neurogenic pulmonary edema
- Mental disorders
- Sudden death during an attack
- Status epilepticus – a sharp reduction in the intervals between seizures when the patient does not regain consciousness. In the absence of medical assistance, the onset of a coma is likely. The causes of the phenomenon are the consequences of a traumatic brain injury, infectious diseases, negligence in the passage of the prescribed conservative course, and a tendency to drink alcohol.
- The state of aspiration pneumonia – is caused by foreign objects or vomit entering the respiratory tract during epileptic attacks.
- Neurogenic pulmonary edema is caused by an overload of the left atrium due to disorders in the functioning of the nervous system and arterial hypertension.
- The development and consolidation of mental disorders include captiousness, aggressiveness, vindictiveness, and depressive states.
- Sudden death during an attack.
There are also secondary dangers in epileptic seizures:
- With the development of a generalized seizure, there is a high risk that the patient will get serious mechanical injuries. It can occur near a fire, while driving a car, at a height, in front of a train on a platform, or at work;
- Long-term seizures that take 6-7 minutes or more carry a high health hazard because the patient can choke on vomit.
- In addition to the clinical symptoms, a person faces the social and psychological consequences of epilepsy. It is a very stigmatizing disease that reduces the quality and duration of life. The vital activity of patients is reduced for fear of injury during an attack. Epilepsy interferes with the occupation of certain job positions and driving vehicles.
Epilepsy is a disease that has many variations, causes, and even possible complications. Therefore, if you notice characteristic symptoms of a seizure behind you, then you should not hesitate to visit a doctor. Of fundamental importance is the timely establishment of the correct diagnosis – a specific form of epilepsy. Diagnosis must be made by a specialist. The treatment strategy and prognosis of the course of the disease depend on the correctness of the diagnosis.
- What age does epilepsy usually start?
Epileptic seizures can begin at any age – from the neonatal period (the first month of life) to extreme old age.
- What is the main cause of epilepsy?
It is often assumed that epilepsy originated at the genetic level.
- What are the warning signs of epilepsy?
Epilepsy signs and symptoms may include:
- Temporary confusion
- Uncontrolled jerky movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or understanding of reality
- Mental symptoms such as fear, anxiety, or deja vu
- What are the first signs of a seizure?
The possible onset of an attack is indicated by characteristic signs – deterioration in sleep and appetite, increased irritability, and headache.
- Can I live everyday life with epilepsy?
The majority of patients with epilepsy have a daily life. And yet there are severe cases due to which people are left without work and cannot do without help in everyday life.
- Can stress cause seizures?
Stress is one of the reasons seizures occur. It is usually accompanied by feelings such as worry or fear.
- Can epilepsy go away?
70% of epilepsies respond well to treatment. Some forms of epilepsy stop without therapy at the age of 13-15 years.