What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is not a disease, but it is a symptom of an underlying neurological disorder.Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain. The brain controls all of our functions by sending electrical signals through our nerves to control our body’s operation. When there is a misfire of a large amount of electrical energy that is suddenly and unusually discharged into the brain, it is known as a seizure.When a person has two or more seizures with unknown causes, they are said to have epilepsy. Because seizures are a symptom of epilepsy, the condition is also often referred to as a seizure disorder.
A seizure is temporary, ending when the electrical signals stop misfiring. During a seizure, depending on what part and how much of the brain is affected, a seizure can alter a person’s awareness, movements and feelings. When the seizure is over, brain function returns to normal. Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. A person can’t control their behavior during a seizure; often a person doesn’t know they are having one. Recovery time varies following a seizure-some people recovery quickly and others have lingering headaches, muscle aches and fatigue after a seizure.
There are two large groups of seizures-partial seizures affect only part of the brain, and generalized seizures affect the whole brain. What happens during a seizure depends on what part of the brain is being affected by the bursts of electrical energy.
Anyone at any age can develop epilepsy. Current research shows that 1 out of every 26 Americans will develop epilepsy and 1 out of every 10 Americans will have at least one seizure in their lives. Epilepsy affects people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds. The condition can develop at any time of life, however, it strikes most often among the very young and the very old. A large number of children and adults have undetected or untreated epilepsy. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in children. More than 2% of the today’s population is affected by epilepsy–this adds up to more than 3 million Americans living with epilepsy. Epilepsy is the 3rd most common neurological disorder, only behind Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. It is equal in prevalence to Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease combined.
It is important to remember that epilepsy is not contagious and it does not cause mental illness. It is what you have, not what you are. Most people with epilepsy have normal intelligence and some have superior intelligence. Epilepsy is a medical disorder that only affects the person during the few moments when they are having a seizure. People who have epilepsy are just like everybody else–some short, some tall; some shy, some outgoing; some athletic, some not so good at sports; and so on. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Epilepsy is only one part of a person’s life, it should not stand in the way of achievement or success or living life like everyone else!
In more than 7 out of every 10 cases of epilepsy, no exact cause can be found. Some of the known causes include: head injuries, high fever, brain tumors, genetic factors, poisoning, congenital defects or a serious illness that affects the brain (ex: meningitis). Seizures in older people may also be caused by: heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, circulatory problems, diseases affecting the brain, brain tumors or scarring from brain surgery.
Is there a way to prevent epilepsy?
One day, research may be able to find ways to identify people who are at risk for developing epilepsy and to prevent it before it begins, but for now, the only way of preventing epilepsy is by reducing the risks of things that may damage the brain. This includes vaccines against certain diseases, wearing protective head gear when applicable and using seat belts and child safety seats in automobiles.