Epilepsy - Overview
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders. Approximately 2.5 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy is really many diseases but they all have in common the repetitive occurrence of epileptic seizures. A seizure is a period of abnormal activity where a group of brain cells (neurons) fire more frequently than usual and in unison. This can occur in a small region of the brain (partial seizures) or throughout both of the brain's hemispheres (generalized seizures). They are often accompanied by loss of consciousness and abnormal behavior (such as jerking of an arm). They usually start and stop abruptly and may be followed by a period of altered awareness or weakness (the post-ictal period). Epilepsy can strike at any age, but it is especially common in children and the elderly.
A seizure that happens only once is not considered epilepsy.
Causes of Epilepsy
The underlying cause of epilepsy is when permanent changes to brain tissue causes the brain to be too exciteable or jumpy and sends out abnormal signals. Epileptic seizures typically begin between the ages of 5 and 20, but can happen at any age, especially when there is a family history of seizures or epilepsy.
Some common causes include the following:
- Stroke or transient ischemic attack
- Alzheimer's disease
- Traumatic brain injury
- Brain abcess, meningitis, encephalitis or AIDS
- Congenital brain defect
- Brain injury during or near birth
- Metabolism disorders in children (such as phenylketonuria)
- Brain tumor
- Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
Symptoms of epilepsy range from staring spells and loss of alertness to violent shaking, and patients often have a strange sensation or emotional changes before each seizure (called an aura.) Symptoms and type of seizure depend on the part of the brain affected and the cause of the disease. Most recurrant seizures are similar to previous seizures.
For more symtom details for various types of seizures, visit the following health topics:
Some types of epilepsy are well controlled with medication (anti-epileptic drugs, AEDs). There are a large number of medications that can be used to treat epilepsy and this is best managed by a Neurologist that specializes in the treatment of epilepsy. However, about 30% of people with epilepsy cannot be controlled with medications alone. Those people may be candidates for other therapies such as epilepsy surgery and they should be evaluated by a specialized comprehensive epilepsy center, such as the one at the University of Florida. Uncontrolled epilepsy severely impacts all aspects of a patient’s life including their education, personal relationships, ability to drive and work, and it even increases their risk of sudden, unexplained death.
Experts at UF Health are dedicated to providing optimum care for people with difficult-to-control epilepsy. Our epilepsy specialists also treat patients with related neurological conditions including seizure disorders, syncope, migraine, stroke and sleep disorders.