Understanding Epilepsy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
The first step in learning how to deal with this is understanding how it works and what triggers the seizures. Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for epilepsy.
Did you know that 1 in 26 people in the US will develop epilepsy during their lifetimes? For a disorder that common, most people don’t know a lot about it.
Why does it happen, and who can it happen to? There are so many misunderstandings about the sources and symptoms of this disorder.
How can you find the answers?
Read on for our guide to understanding epilepsy: causes, symptoms, and treatments!
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a common neurological or brain disorder that causes repeated seizures. People can be born with epilepsy or develop it later in life.
Not all seizures look the same because there are 14 different types. The various types have different causes and will manifest in different ways.
We’ll discuss the causes below.
Many forms of epilepsy are idiopathic meaning they don’t have an identifiable cause. These may be related to gene mutations.
However about half of those with epilepsy have been able to identify the cause or source of their condition.
There are many different causes of epilepsy and it will vary depending on the age of the patient.
Newborns with epilepsy may be experiencing seizures due to a lack of oxygen during their birth process, electrolyte deficiencies, or even maternal drug use.
Young patients are often born with a structural abnormality that causes seizures. And while Autism Spectrum Disorder doesn’t cause seizures, they have been found to be related.
In adults, seizures can be the result of head injuries. Infections can cause scarring inside the brain that can result in seizures that manifest years later.
In patients over the age of 65, the most common cause of seizures is a stroke. Other brain conditions like Alzheimer’s can cause epileptic seizures.
Ultimately, the causes of epilepsy are as varied as the symptoms.
Epilepsy Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most pronounced symptom of epilepsy is seizures. But because seizures can originate in almost any part of the brain, they can affect many different functions. This means that seizures may manifest in different forms.
Seizures don’t always look like the uncontrolled shaking and twitching. They are more often subtle. For example, a patient might:
- stare blankly for a few seconds
- become unconscious or unaware for a minute or more
- become confused temporarily
- experience unprompted anxiety or fear
These symptoms are not exclusive to epilepsy so doctors will likely perform some tests to determine if the symptoms are being caused by irregular brain activity.
If a patient does experience these symptoms then the following practices are common to diagnose epilepsy.
The physician will likely perform some type of neurological exam to try and locate the source of the seizures. Some of the most common exams are:
- Motor Skills test: performed by a doctor to evaluate basic motor skills
- Electroencephalogram or EEG: a series of electrodes are placed on the head and are able to monitor and measure brain activity over a period of time. A high-density EEG can be performed using more electrodes placed closer together.
- MRI: MRIs can create a detailed map of your brain that lets doctors explore what could be causing symptoms without having to perform surgery.
- PET scan: PET scans are used to measure blood flow by injecting a small amount of harmless but traceable materials into your bloodstream.
- CT Scan: can be used to see if there are physical abnormalities causing the seizures, like tumors, cysts, or bleeding.
They may also test your blood to see if you have any pre-existing conditions that make you more prone to seizures.
Once you’ve diagnosed the disorder, you’ll be able to make a plan with your doctor to treat it.
There are 3 main treatments available for epilepsy. We’ll discuss them below in order from most common to least common!
Medication is the least invasive treatment option, so it’s the most commonly recommended and used by doctors. Medications account for most treatment and research shows that 70% of epileptics could control their seizures with anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).
There are two types of AEDs:
- Narrow Spectrum AEDs are for patients whose seizures consistently occur in one spot in the brain. They can target the small area and treat it.
- Broad Spectrum AEDs are for patients whose seizures occur in two or more places in the brain. These medications can work in several different areas.
But treatment can be expensive, even with insurance. Using resources like eDrugSearch can help you save money on medications.
Medication may not treat all forms of epilepsy. In that case, a physician may explore other treatments in addition to prescriptions.
Therapies include recurring treatments or lifestyle changes to treat epilepsy.
Nerve therapy is when a device is implanted in the chest that can send electric pulses to the vagus nerve or thalamus. These pulses have been shown to reduce the number of seizures in most patients.
They don’t usually eliminate the seizures completely but many patients have been able to reduce the amount of medication they take significantly.
Another common therapy is a ketogenic diet. This diet is high in fats and low in carbohydrates.
Diets can be dangerous if done outside of the direction and observation of a doctor. Make sure you consult and consistently follow up with your doctor about a ketogenic diet to treat seizures.
Surgery is the most invasive option, so most doctors will only recommend it after medications and therapies have failed.
In an epilepsy surgery, a neurosurgeon will remove the part of your brain that is causing seizures. But only if removing that small part of the brain won’t interfere with your most vital functions (speech, motor-functions, vision, and hearing).
Doctors will recommend a series of tests and screenings to determine whether a patient is a good candidate for epileptic surgery.
While epilepsy is a wide spectrum disorder, there are treatments available that are highly successful and help those with epilepsy to lead healthy, normal lives.
Partner with your physician today if you or someone you love is showing signs of epilepsy.
Contact us today for more info!
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