Epilepsy is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that can cause excess electrical activity in the brain. The brain contains billions of neurons (nerve cells) that create and receive electrical impulses. Electrical impulses allow neurons to communicate with one another. During a seizure, there is abnormal and excessive electrical activity in the brain. This can cause changes in awareness, behavior, and/or abnormal movements. This activity usually lasts only a few seconds to minutes.
One of the most common seizure types is a convulsion. This may be called a "tonic clonic" or "grand mal" seizure. In this type of seizure, a person may stiffen and have jerking muscle movements; during the muscle-jerking, the person may bite their tongue, causing bleeding or frothing at the mouth.
Other seizure types are less dramatic. Shaking movements may be isolated to one arm or part of the face. Alternatively, the person may suddenly stop responding and stare for a few seconds, sometimes with chewing motions or smacking the lips.
Seizures may also cause "sensations" that only the patient feels. As an example, one type of seizure can cause stomach discomfort, fear, or an unpleasant smell. Such subjective feelings are commonly referred to as auras. A person usually experiences the same symptoms with each seizure aura. Sometimes, a seizure aura can occur before a convulsive seizure.
Drug therapy can control seizures completely in up to 80% of people. It may be necessary to take the medication(s) for a number of years, but treatment can often be stopped when you have been free from seizures for three or more years. Treatment must not be stopped suddenly as this can trigger a seizure. For a few people, drug treatment is not able to control their epilepsy completely, but is still beneficial in preventing some seizures. Neurosurgery may be a possibility for those people whose epilepsy is caused by an abnormality in one particular area of the brainand no response to medical management.
The dosages of drugs given need to be adjusted to individual patients in order to avoid unwanted side effects such as drowsiness. The ideal dosage is the lowest dose necessary to stop the seizures occurring. Regular check-ups are necessary in people taking long-term drug therapy.
A single seizure does not necessarily indicate epilepsy. Seizures requires some tests like EEG, MRI for evaluation and treatment planning. An electroencephalogram (EEG) monitors the electrical activity of your brain. It takes less than 30 minutes and indicates the activity in the brain at that particular time. Sometimes prologed monitoring may be required. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can show up any areas of damage to the brain that could be causing the epilepsy.