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Epilepsy: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About epilepsy

Epilepsy is a brain disorder characterised by recurrent episodes of convulsions. Convulsions also called seizures occur as a result of abnormal electrical activity of the brain cells. Seizures are the main and predominant symptom of epilepsy. Epilepsy is an incurable but a treatable condition.

Epilepsy: Incidence, age and sex

Epilepsy is not a very common brain disorder and usually affects children. No gender bias has yet been documented.

Signs and symptoms of epilepsy: Diagnosis

An individual is diagnosed with epilepsy if he/she has experienced more than one episode of seizure. Epilepsy is different from febrile seizures which are commonly encountered in children less than 5 years of age. Febrile seizure is a harmless condition wherein the child may experience seizure when he/she has very high fever. This type of seizure activity is self limiting and generally subsides as the child grows up.

On the other hand, epilepsy is an ongoing and lifelong condition wherein the individual suffers from multiple episodes of seizure activity which may be either focal in onset or generalised. It has no relation with fever. Focal seizure usually causes muscular spasms affecting only one part of the body. It may or may not be accompanied by the loss of consciousness. Alternatively, generalised seizure involves many muscle groups of the body resulting in their rhythmic contraction and relaxation. Such generalised seizures are mostly accompanied with loss of consciousness, tongue biting or urinary incontinence.

The diagnosis of epilepsy is based upon detailed history, including that of seizure activity. It can be confirmed by certain tests like brain scan and also by EEG which monitors the electrical activity of brain.

Causes and prevention of epilepsy

Epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical signals in brain. The exact cause of such abnormality is not clearly understood but factors like infections in brain, traumatic head injury or stroke may play a role in inducing this disorder. Moreover, epilepsy also has a strong genetic susceptibility.

An individual who has been diagnosed with epilepsy may trigger increased incidence of seizures as a result of lack of sleep, physical or emotional stress, non-compliance to anti-epileptic medications and menstruation.

Epilepsy: Complications

The most dreaded complication of epilepsy is ‘status epilepticus’ wherein the individual may experience continuous seizure activity for more than five to ten minutes along with loss of consciousness. Not only this, individuals on anti-epileptic medications usually suffer from distressing adverse effects like weight gain, depression, drowsiness and hair loss.

Epilepsy: Treatment

Epilepsy is a lifelong disease which has no cure. However it can be effectively controlled by medications in most of the affected individuals, helping them lead fulfilling and independent lives. Oral anti-epileptic medications are the mainstay of treatment and can be prescribed singularly or in combination. The individual needs to be regularly monitored to adjust the dosage according to the effect on epilepsy and also to avoid any serious adverse effects. A majority of the individuals can be effectively managed with medications. However, in a handful of them, who do not respond well to medications, may be advised surgical intervention.

The surgery includes removing a small portion of the brain which is detected to cause focal seizures. This kind of surgery is highly risky and may lead to disastrous consequences. Another kind of surgery in which the vagal nerve is stimulated to cause cessation of seizures, may also be considered.

Epileptic women planning pregnanciesy should ideally consult a team of gynaecologists and neurologists for further advice. Ideally, such women are advised to continue the medication. Furthermore, individuals with epilepsy are advised not to venture in swimming pool alone, avoid cooking when alone at home and also avoid taking bath in a bath tub.