Epilepsy: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

There are many different types of epilepsy, but all of them have a few things in common: they are all chronic conditions that involve seizures, they involve malfunctions in the brain’s electrical system, and they are characterized by recurrent seizures and abnormal electrical impulses in the brain. Doctors often use the term “seizure disorder” as an umbrella term for conditions in the epileptic family.

Types of Epilepsy

Doctors characterize the seizures that occur in epilepsy, and by noting the causes of these seizures they can determine what category of the disease you have. Idiopathic epilepsy is caused by genetics, which means that the seizures have no apparent external cause and are occurring because of malfunctions in particular genes. Cryptogenic epilepsy means that doctors have determined a possible cause, but no exact cause has been isolated. Generalized epilepsy means that the seizures involve the whole brain — this category includes West syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Finally, partial or focal epilepsy means that the seizure begins in or affects only one part of the brain — temporal lobe epilepsy and frontal lobe epilepsy are in this condition grouping.

Causes of Epilepsy

Abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes epileptic seizures, but this electrical activity can be triggered by external stimuli like flashing lights or loud noises. In normal brain communication, cells communicate through orderly electric pulses between them. When this electrical activity becomes too rapid or disorganized, seizure-causing electrical storms are produced in the brain. Depending on the type of epilepsy that is being suffered from, these electrical storms may occur in a specific part of the brain (like the frontal lobe) or may exist in the full brain simultaneously.

Symptoms of Epilepsy

Diagnosing epilepsy involves being able to recognize symptoms of an epileptic seizure. Usually, epilepsy symptoms manifest themselves in either grand mal seizures that impact the full brain, or partial or focal seizures that are localized in the brain. Symptoms vary between seizures, but generally the seizing person has their eyes open, stiffens for a few minutes and experiences uncontrolled rhythmic movements, and has a difficult time remembering basic facts about the situation after it is over. Partial seizures often involve the movement of only one body part, such as the hand or the leg, and other minor repetitive movements could symbolize a minor seizure.

Treatment of Epilepsy

Epilepsy treatments are usually characterized by drug therapy. Epilepsy medications help control and diminish the severity of epileptic seizures, and they are extremely widespread in the epilepsy community. Alternative treatments include the ketogenic diet, which helps the body avoid electrical storms, and nerve stimulation surgeries like the Vagus surgical approach. For younger children, doctors sometimes prescribe large doses of vitamins or melatonin injections.

So in sum, what is epilepsy? It is a chronic disorder characterized by recurring seizures that may or may not be present in the whole brain. There are several different types, and although there are several alternative treatments available, most doctors utilize advanced epilepsy medications with great success.