Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain. Anyone can have one seizure in their lifetime, which may look like epileptic seizures but they do not start in the brain.
Some seizures are caused by conditions such as low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) or a change to the way the heart is working. Some very young children have 'febrile convulsions' (jerking movements) when they have a high temperature. These are not the same as epileptic seizures.
When you have more than one seizure, doctors will look into Epilepsy.
What are seizures?
We all have electrical activity in our brain as cells send messages to each other. A seizure is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity, which causes temporary disruption.
There are many different types of seizures so what happens to someone with Epilepsy depends on which part of the brain is affected.
What are the different types of seizures?
There are over 40 different types on seizures. I have listed the most common but if you would like further information, please click here
Simple focal seizures
In simple focal seizures (SFS) a small part of one of the lobes of the brain is affected. The person is conscious (aware and alert) and will usually know that something is happening and will remember the seizure afterwards. Often mistaken for daydreaming.
Complex focal seizures
Complex focal seizures (CFS) affect a bigger part of one hemisphere (side) of the brain than a simple focal seizure. The person’s consciousness is affected, they may be confused and make strange movements (called ‘automatisms’).
Generalised and secondarily generalised seizures
Generalised seizures affect both sides of the brain at once and can happen without warning. The person will be unconscious (except in myoclonic seizures), even if just for a few seconds. Afterwards they will not remember what happened during the seizure.
Sometimes focal seizures spread from one side (hemisphere) to both sides of the brain. This is called a secondarily generalised seizure because it starts as a focal seizure and then becomes generalised. When this happens the person becomes unconscious and will usually have a tonic clonic ('convulsive' or shaking) seizure. If this happens very quickly, they may not be aware that it started as a focal seizure.
Absences (sometimes called petit mal)
Absence seizures, or petit mal seizures, are more common in children than adults and can happen very frequently. During an absence a person becomes unconscious for a short time.
In a tonic seizure the person’s muscles suddenly become stiff. If they are standing they often fall, usually backwards, and may injure the back of their head. Tonic seizures tend to be very brief and happen without warning.
In an atonic seizure (or 'drop attack') the person’s muscles suddenly relax and they become floppy. If they are standing they often fall, usually forwards, and may injure the front of their head or face.
Myoclonic means ‘muscle jerk’. Muscle jerks are not always due to epilepsy (for example, some people have them as they fall asleep). Myoclonic seizures are brief but can happen in clusters.
Tonic clonic seizures
At the start of the seizure the person becomes unconscious their body goes stiff and if they are standing up they usually fall backwards. During the seizure they jerk and shake (convulse) as their muscles relax and tighten rhythmically.
Clonic seizures are convulsive seizures but the person's body does not go stiff at the start.
What causes Epilepsy?
Typically, the known causes of seizure involve some injury to the brain. Some of the main causes of Epilepsy include:
Low oxygen during birth
Head injuries that occur during birth or from accidents during youth or adulthood
Genetic conditions that result in brain injury, such as tuberous sclerosis
Infections such as meningitis
Stroke or any other type of damage to the brain
Abnormal levels of substances such as sodium or blood sugar
In up to 70% of all cases of Epilepsy in adults and children, no cause can be discovered.
How is it diagnosed?
Epilepsy is diagnosed by giving a specialist doctor (A neurologist) a detailed description of the seizure activity or/and a video.
Tests are also taken, these can include blood tests, an EEG (recording of the brainwaves) and brain scans.
How is it treated?
The most common treatment is Anti-Epileptic drugs. Unfortunately they cant cure Epilepsy but can can stop or reduce seizures.
Other treatment options are brain surgery, vagus nerve stimulation and a special diet called the Ketongenic diet.
First Aid for seizure's?
Look around - is the person in a dangerous place? If not, don't move them. Move objects like furniture away from them.
Note the time the seizure starts.
Stay with them. If they don't collapse but seem blank or confused, gently guide them away from any danger. Speak quietly and calmly.
Cushion their head with something soft if they have collapsed to the ground.
Don't hold them down.
Don't put anything in their mouth.
Check the time again. If a convulsive (shaking) seizure doesn't stop after 5 minutes, call for an ambulance.