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Epilepsy & Other Seizures

When a group of nerve cells or all nerve cells of the brain start creating electrical signals in an uncontrollable manner, you are having an epileptic fit or seizure. Epilepsy is not a rare condition. In fact, 2% population in the developed countries suffers from this illness. The condition develops during childhood but generally disappears as the child grows up. Most people with epilepsy lead a normal life, but those who have repeated epileptic fits or seizures may have to stop doing certain activities such as driving.

In about 33% of the cases, the main cause responsible for epilepsy is not clear. Involvement of a genetic factor in such cases cannot be ruled out though. The possible causes are:

  • Disease or damage caused to the brain due to infections, a brain tumour, a stroke, a severe head injury or prolonged febrile convulsions as a baby
  • Lack of sleep or missing a meal.
  • Drinking excessive alcohol.
  • Looking at flashing lights and flickering computer screens and television screens constantly.

Epileptic seizures can mainly be classified into two categories, 1) generalised, and 2) partial. During a generalised seizure, the whole brain is affected at the same time. There are two types of generalised seizures namely tonic-clonic seizures and petit mal seizures. In a partial seizure, only one part of the brain is affected. There are also two types of partial seizures, namely simple partial seizures and complex partial seizures. These partial seizures can become generalised tonic-clonic seizures.

The symptoms depend upon the type of the epileptic seizure.

1. Tonic-clonic seizure

  • A warning of an attack known as aura, in which you may have a sensation of fear, unease, or an unusual taste.
  • Irregular breathing.
  • Breathing may stop for a brief period.
  • Uncontrolled movements of the body for several minutes, especially that of limbs.
  • You may feel confused and disoriented for a few hours after the attack.
  • Headache.

2. Petit mal seizure

  • More common in children.
  • Losing touch with surroundings and in a state of daydreaming.
  • Often goes unnoticed.

3. Simple partial seizure

  • The head and the eyes may turn to one side. The hand, arm, and one side of the face may twitch.
  • You may feel tingling sensation in some of these areas.
  • Temporary weakness or paralysis of one side of the body.
  • You may also have strange sensations such as odd tastes, sounds, and smells.

4. Complex partial seizure

  • You may feel odd sensations and experience odd tastes and smells.
  • You may have a deja vu feeling.
  • Smacking of the lips, fidgeting and grimacing.
  • Later, once the symptoms subsides, you may not remember what happened.

A single seizure is not considered as epilepsy, and therefore, treatment may not be needed. Recurrent seizures will be treated with anti-convulsant drugs. Gradually, the dose is increased until the seizures are controlled. You may have to go for blood tests regularly to monitor drug levels. Depending upon the results of the tests and brain scan, drug treatment may be changed or reduced. It is observed that 80% of the people, who stop taking anti-convulsant drugs, have seizures within two years. When drugs don’t treat the disease, and if it is found that a small area of brain tissue is responsible for the recurrence, the doctors may advise you to go for surgical removal of brain tissues.

If you see somebody having an epileptic seizure, turn the person onto his/her side and protect him from self-injury. It the attack lasts for more than five minutes, call an ambulance, and don’t leave the person alone. Stay with him/her till he/she gets medical assistance.

If you are diagnosed with epilepsy, you should avoid anything that may trigger an attack. Try following measures. They will surely be helpful.

  • Follow a healthy life-style.
  • Eat at regular intervals and sleep on time.
  • Learn to relax and de-stress your mind. Practice yoga and meditation.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol.
  • Avoid anything that has previously triggered or may trigger seizure.
  • Check with your doctor before taking medications that may interact with anti-convulsant drugs.
  • Wear a protective helmet if you participate in contact sports.
  • Don’t go for swimming or water sports alone. Make sure you have somebody with you.
  • If you’re planning to bear a child, seek advice from your doctor.

By the age of 60 years, around 60% of men and 40% of women start snoring