Epilepsy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder which affects the brain activity, leading to seizures, unusual behavior, and loss of awareness. Epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain. The condition is not age, gender nor race-specific. Also, epilepsy can affect both males and females of all races.

Symptoms of epileptic seizures vary from person to person. Having a single seizure doesn’t necessarily mean you have epilepsy. At least two unprovoked seizures are generally required for an epilepsy diagnosis.
Medications or surgery (in severe cases), can be used to control seizures for most people. Some people require lifetime treatment to control seizures, while seizures eventually resolve on their own in others. Some children with epilepsy may outgrow the condition with age.

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Symptoms of Epilepsy

Seizure signs and symptoms related to epilepsy may include:

  • A staring spell
  • Temporary confusion
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Psychic symptoms such as fear or anxiety

Classification of Epilepsy

Depending on how the abnormal brain activity begins, doctors can classify seizures as either focal or generalized.

Focal seizures

Focal or partial seizures occur as a result of abnormal activity in just one area of your brain. These seizures fall into two categories:

  • Focal seizures without loss of consciousness. These seizures don’t cause a loss of consciousness and may change the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound. They may also result in involuntary jerking of a body part, such as an arm or leg, and spontaneous sensory symptoms such as tingling, dizziness and flashing lights.
  • Focal seizures with impaired awareness. These seizures involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. When this occurs, you may stare into space and not respond normally to your environment or perform repetitive movements, such as chewing, walking in circles, hand rubbing, or swallowing.

Symptoms of focal seizures may be confused with other neurological disorders, such as migraine, narcolepsy or mental illness. A thorough examination and testing are needed to distinguish epilepsy from other disorders.

Generalized seizures

Seizures that appear to involve all areas of the brain are called generalized seizures. There are six types of generalized seizures. They include;

  • Absence seizures.These often occur in children and are characterized by staring into space or delicate body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking.
  • Tonic seizures. This causes stiffening of your muscles and usually affect muscles in your back, arms and legs. This seizure may cause you to fall to the ground.
  • Atonic seizures. This causes loss of muscle control, which may cause you to suddenly collapse.
  • Clonic seizures. Clonic seizures are repeated or rhythmic, jerking muscle movements that usually affect the neck, face and arms.
  • Myoclonic seizures. This usually appear as sudden brief jerks or twitches of your arms and legs.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures. These seizures are the most dramatic type of epileptic seizure. It can cause body stiffening and shaking, biting of tongue, abrupt loss of consciousness, and loss of bladder control.

When to see a doctor

Seek medical help immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Seizure lasts more than five minutes.
  • High fever
  • Second seizure follows immediately.
  • Heat exhaustion.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You’ve injured yourself during the seizure.
  • Consciousness fails to return after the seizure stops.

Causes of Epilepsy

Epilepsy has no particular cause. The condition may be traced to various factors, including:

  • Head trauma. Epilepsy can be caused by head trauma as a result of a car accident or other traumatic injury.
  • Genetic influence. Some types of epilepsy run in families. In these cases, it’s likely that there’s a genetic influence.

Researchers have linked some types of epilepsy to specific genes, but for most people, genes are only part of the cause of epilepsy. Certain genes may make a person more sensitive to environmental conditions that trigger seizures.

  • Brain conditions. Brain conditions such as stroke or brain tumors, can cause epilepsy.
  • Infectious diseases. Epilepsy can also be caused by infectious diseases, such as meningitis, AIDS and viral encephalitis.
  • Prenatal injury. Babies are sensitive to brain damage that could be caused by several factors, such as an infection in the mother, poor nutrition or oxygen deficiencies. This brain damage can result in epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
  • Developmental disorders. Epilepsy can sometimes be linked with developmental disorders, such as autism and neurofibromatosis.

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Risk factors of Epilepsy

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing this condition. They include:

  • The beginning of epilepsy is most common in children and older adults, but the condition can occur at any age.
  • Family history. If you have a family history of epilepsy, you may be at an increased risk of developing a seizure disorder.
  • Head injuries. Head injuries are responsible for some cases of epilepsy. You can reduce your risk by wearing a seat belt while riding in a car and by wearing a helmet while bicycling, skiing, riding a motorcycle or engaging in other activities with a high risk of head injury.
  • Stroke and other vascular diseases. Stroke and other blood vessel (vascular) diseases can lead to brain damage that may trigger epilepsy. You can take a number of steps to reduce your risk of these diseases, including limiting your intake of alcohol and avoiding cigarettes, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
  • Dementia can increase the risk of epilepsy in older adults.
  • Brain infections. Infections such as meningitis, which causes inflammation in your brain or spinal cord, can increase your risk.
  • Seizures in childhood. High fevers in childhood can sometimes be associated with seizures. Children who have seizures due to high fevers generally won’t develop epilepsy. The risk of epilepsy increases if a child has a long seizure, another nervous system condition or a family history of epilepsy.


Having a seizure at certain times can lead to circumstances that are dangerous to yourself or others.

  • If you fall during a seizure, you can injure your head or break a bone, such fall may be fatal and may even lead to death.
  • An epileptic person may likely drown while swimming or bathing due to the possibility of having a seizure while in the water.
  • Car accidents. A seizure that causes either loss of awareness or control can be dangerous if you’re driving a car or operating other equipment.
  • Pregnancy complications. Seizures during pregnancy can affect both mother and baby.
  • Emotional health issues. People with epilepsy are more likely to have psychological problems, especially depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and behaviors due to difficulties dealing with the condition.

Diagnosis of Epilepsy

Diagnosing epilepsy involves your doctor reviewing your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may order several tests to diagnose epilepsy and determine the cause of seizures. Tests may include:

  • A neurological exam. Your doctor may test your behavior, motor abilities, mental function and other areas to determine the type of epilepsy you may have.
  • Blood tests. Your doctor may take a blood sample to check for signs of infections, genetic conditions or other conditions that may be associated with seizures.

Your doctor may also suggest tests to detect brain abnormalities. Such tests may include:

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • High-density EEG
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Functional MRI (fMRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT)
  • Neuropsychological tests
  • Statistical parametric mapping (SPM)
  • Curry analysis
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG)

Treatment of Epilepsy

Doctors generally begin by treating epilepsy with medication. If medications don’t treat the condition, doctors may propose surgery or another type of treatment.


An anti-seizure medication, also called anti-epileptic medication can be taken to ease symptoms. Others may take a combination of medications.

Many children with epilepsy who aren’t experiencing epilepsy symptoms can eventually discontinue drugs and live a seizure-free life. Your doctor will advise you about the appropriate time to stop taking medications.


Surgery may be the next option when medications fail to control seizures. The surgical procedure involves a surgeon removing the area of your brain that’s causing seizures.


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