Understand Epilepsy and Prevent Seizures from Disrupting Your Life

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What is Epilepsy?

The fourth most common brain disorder after migraines, strokes and Alzheimer's Disease, epilepsy is characterized by a tendency to have recurrent, spontaneous seizures. "While most people think of epilepsy in terms of convulsive seizures, it’s actually a broad term used to describe any brain disorder that causes seizures." says Dr. Angel Claudio, Epileptologist.

Genetics can play a role in the development of epilepsy, but can also be caused by stroke, head trauma, infectious diseases of the brain or brain abnormalities.

Since some epilepsies are age related, you can sometimes outgrow them. And, up to 70% of people with epilepsy can become seizure-free with medication.

Epilepsy affects people of every age, but it’s most likely to be diagnosed in childhood or during your senior years.

What are the Types of Epileptic Seizures?

There are two groups of seizures: generalized seizures, which affect both sides of the brain, and focal seizures, located in just one area of the brain and within each group of seizures, there are different types of seizures.

Focal Seizures

Focal seizures only happen in one part of the brain. That’s why they’re also called focal seizures.

There are two types of focal seizures:

  • Focal seizures without loss of awareness (previously known as simple partial seizures)
  • Focal seizures with loss of awareness (previously known as complex partial seizures)
    • Both seizure types may have motor symptoms such as jerking or twitching of a part of the body, repetitive movements of limbs or the mouth or may have non-motor symptoms such as changes in emotion or sensation. In the latter however, a person has vague or no idea of what occurred.
    • Additionally, focal seizures can evolve into bilateral tonic-clonic seizures, which happens when the activity on one side of the brain spreads to the other side affecting the entire brain.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures can come in multiple forms, both motor and non-motor:

  • Absence seizures (Non-motor) (also known as petit mal seizures) cause rapid blinking or a few seconds of staring off without being responsive.
  • Myoclonic seizures, in which a person can have short brief jerks of upper extremities in succession for a few seconds.
  • Atonic seizures, in which a person loses complete muscle tone causing them to fall to the ground.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures (also known as a grand mal seizures) can cause muscle jerks or spasms, crying out, losing consciousness or falling to the ground.

What Triggers Seizures?

A seizure is an electrical disruption of brain activity. Specific events or circumstances — called seizure triggers — can increase your risk of a seizure in patient who suffers from epilepsy. Learning to recognize them can help you lessen and even avoid seizures from occurring. Some seizure triggers include:

  • Fatigue
  • Hormonal changes
  • Illness
  • Lack of sleep
  • Missed medication
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Anxiety

What Should You Do When a Seizure Happens?

If you experience a seizure or see someone having one, you might feel helpless because you cannot stop it. But someone witnessing a seizure can provide care, comfort and support by:

  • Documenting the seizure to share so the details can be shared with a doctor later
  • Keeping the person safe, by protecting their head and keeping them from injury
  • Place them on one side, but not forcefully
  • Monitoring breathing
  • Providing gentle reassurance
  • Staying at the person's side
  • Timing the seizure

When Should You Call an Ambulance for a Seizure?

Call 911 if there is an injury, if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes or if the person is having difficulty breathing or is non-responsive after the seizure. However:

  • DON'T attempt CPR, unless qualified
  • DON'T give the person water or food until they’re fully alert
  • DON'T hold the person down
  • DON'T put anything in the person's mouth
  • DON'T try to stop their movement

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Dr. Angel Claudio, Epileptologist says "several conditions can be confused with epilepsy, making it difficult to diagnose. But the effective treatment of epileptic seizures requires an accurate diagnosis." Confirming you have epilepsy and knowing what kind you have is a critical first step.

Since seizures seldom happen in a doctor's office, you'll need to document what happens so you can share the details with your health care providers. They'll evaluate what you share and decide what kind of testing you need to confirm whether you have epilepsy and what type of epilepsy you have.

To make an epilepsy diagnosis or evaluate your specific type of epilepsy further, your doctor will order a combination of tests that can include:

  • Blood tests
  • CT or CAT scan
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) (a brain wave test)
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • MRI scan
  • MEG scan
  • PET scan
  • SPECT scan
  • Neuropsychological evaluation

Many times the results of these tests will appear completely normal in people with epilepsy. This doesn't mean your seizures aren’t real or that epilepsy isn’t present. For this reason, it’s important for you to stay in close touch with your health care team and let them know if your seizures don't respond to treatment.

Taking Care of Yourself When You Have Epilepsy

Recurring seizures can get in the way of life. Adopting self-care strategies that help you feel better, control your seizures and live a full and more active life, can help.

At AdventHealth, we follow a whole-person approach to care and strive to provide you the support you need to feel well in body, mind and spirit. That includes opportunities for patient education and holistic practices. We can help you:

  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs
  • Follow a well-balanced diet
  • Get 8 hours of sleep
  • Get safe and regular exercise
  • Get support for emotional problems
  • Help loved ones, help you
  • Keep to your seizure medication schedule
  • Learn about your condition
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage memory problems, other health conditions, medicines, supplements and stress
  • Track your seizures

Treating Your Epilepsy

Epilepsy episodes and causes are always specific to you. That's why AdventHealth focuses on giving you specialized attention. Your personalized epilepsy treatment plan may include:

  • Antiepileptic medications
  • Cognitive treatments
  • Ketogenic diet support
  • Surgery
  • Neuromodulation devices such as: VNS, RNS or DBS

One of the most important aspects of your epilepsy treatment plan is the ongoing, long-term monitoring of your condition. At AdventHealth, this includes working with your doctor over time and repeated testing to make sure your treatment plan is right for you. We'll work with you towards your goal of seizure relief now and neurological wellness for life. Find out how.

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