Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures or convulsions. Seizures are the result of disturbed brain activity, and may cause changes in attention or behavior.
Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors
Epilepsy typically occurs when permanent changes in brain tissue cause the brain to be excitable or jumpy. The brain sends out abnormal signals, which results in repeated, unpredictable seizures. A single seizure that does not repeat is not considered epilepsy.
Epilepsy may be caused by: (1) a medical condition or injury that affects the brain, or (2) the cause may be unknown (idiopathic).
Common causes of epilepsy include:
- Stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA);
- Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease;
- Traumatic brain injury;
- Infections, including brain abscess, meningitis, encephalitis, and AIDS;
- Brain problems that are present at birth (congenital brain defect);
- Brain injury that occurs during or near birth;
- Metabolism disorders present at birth (such as phenylketonuria);
- Brain tumor;
- Abnormal blood vessels in the brain;
- Other illness that damage or destroy brain tissue; or
- Use of certain medications, including antidepressants, tramadol, cocaine, and amphetamines
Epilepsy seizures typically begin between ages 5 and 20, but they can happen at any age.
Symptoms vary between individuals. Some may have simple staring spells, while others have violent shaking and loss of consciousness. The resulting seizure depends upon the part of the brain affected and the underlying cause of epilepsy.
Most of the time, the seizure is similar to the one before. Some patients with epilepsy have reported a strange sensation (such as tingling, smelling an odor that isn’t actually there, or emotional changes) before each seizure. This is called an aura.
Signs and Tests
The doctor usually, usually a neurologist, performs a physical exam takes a detailed look at the brain and nervous system.
An EEG (electroencephalogram) will be measure the electrical activity in the brain. Patients with epilepsy will often have abnormal electrical activity on this test. In some cases, the test may show the area in the brain where the seizures begin. The brain may even appear normal after a seizure or between seizures.
Additional tests that may be performed include:
- Blood chemistry;
- Blood sugar;
- CBC (complete blood count);
- Kidney function tests;
- Liver function tests;
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap); and/or
- Tests for infectious diseases
A head or brain CT or MRI scan is often done to find the cause and location of the problem in the brain.
Treatment for epilepsy may include surgery or medication.
If epileptic seizures are due to a tumor, abnormal blood vessels, or bleeding in the brain, surgery to treat these disorders may cause the seizures to stop.
Medication to prevent seizures, called anticonvulsants, may also reduce the number of future seizures.
Epilepsy that does not get better after two or three anti-seizure drugs have been tested is called “medically refractory epilepsy.”
Surgery to place a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) may even be recommended. This device is similar to a heart pacemaker.
If you have an epileptic condition that keeps you from working, then you may be eligible for Long Term Disability benefits. If your insurance company has denied you such benefits, you should seek the guidance of an experienced disability attorney. Mr. Ortiz has handled numerous disability claims involving epilepsy. You may be eligible for a free consultation with Mr. Ortiz. You can reach him at 850-308-7833.