Epilepsy is a chronic condition, which is characterized by abnormal brain activity (impaired electrical rhythm). The condition leads to seizures, affecting people of all ages, races, and genders. The symptoms vary in accordance with the type of seizure and the diagnosis is made with the help of the EEG investigation, among others.
Overview of epilepsy as a chronic condition
According to the World Health Organization, there are over 50 million people worldwide suffering from epilepsy. In 70% of the cases, the exact cause cannot be identified. Children can present this condition from birth or develop it due to secondary reasons. Sometimes, the epileptic seizures can disappear and the treatment is discontinued. There is another severe case of this disease, i.e. multiple sclerosis. Medication and surgery are used for the treatment of epilepsy in general.
What are the symptoms one can exhibit?
The symptoms of epilepsy are the ones present during a seizure. The patients present the same type of seizure every time, so the symptoms will be similar with each new attack.
General manifestations include:
- Confusion, fear, anxiety
- Staring into a fixed point
- Uncontrollable jerking movements (arms, legs)
- Loss of consciousness
- Abnormal sensations.
Focal (localized) seizures are defined by:
- Altered emotions & abnormal sensations (regarding taste, sound, smell, etc.)
- Involuntary jerking
- Sensory manifestations – tingling, feeling dizzy, flashes
- Without loss of consciousness/impaired awareness
- Unresponsive patient
- Repetitive moments (walking in circles, rubbing hands, chewing).
Generalized seizures have the following manifestations:
- Blank stare and subtle movements of the body (absence seizures, common in children)
- Muscle stiffness (tonic seizures) and loss of muscle control (atonic seizures, high risk of falling)
- Repeated, jerking movements (clonic seizures); brief jerks appearing all of a sudden (myoclonic seizures)
- Loss of consciousness accompanied by stiffness and jerking, as well as potential risk of tongue biting and loss of bladder control (tonic-clonic seizures – most severe).
What causes epilepsy?
There are different causes incriminated, including the genetic predisposition, head injuries and other brain conditions (tumor, stroke). A genetic defect might also make people more sensitive to environmental conditions, with a higher risk of developing seizures.
Infections, such as meningitis and viral encephalitis, can lead to epilepsy. Prenatal infections and oxygen deficits can cause brain damage in newborns, with subsequent epileptic seizures. Children with developmental disorders, such as autism, can also present epilepsy.
Risk factors include family history, trauma, and brain inflammation. Children who have suffered from infections with high fever are at risk of epileptic seizures. Specific factors that might trigger a seizure include stress, fatigue, alcohol, and drug abuse.
How is epilepsy treated?
Epilepsy is treated with anti-seizure medication, which will reduce both the frequency and intensity of the seizures. It can be difficult to find the right medication and dosage; in prescribing a specific drug, the doctor will take into consideration the age, pre-existent problems, and type of seizure. A low dose is prescribed at first, being gradually increased.
Anti-seizure medication can cause weight gain, fatigue and affect coordination, memory, and speech. Surgical interventions might be performed to remove the affected area, if possible (high risk of complications). Additional treatment solutions include vagus nerve stimulation and specific diets (ketogenic). In the future, devices could be implanted in the brain to prevent seizures.
Epilepsy, a severe disease
Epilepsy has a negative effect on the overall quality of life. It can increase the risk of injuries, as one can fall and lost consciousness during a seizure. Moreover, one is at higher risk of drowning and car accidents, and death due to inhaling vomit. The developmental of babies can be affected if seizures occur during pregnancy.
From an emotional point of view, epilepsy leads to anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts, requiring a strong support network and counseling. Severe cases, known as status epilepticus, can lead to brain damage (prolonged or recurring seizures). Approximately 20% of all seizures are known as intractable, meaning they will not respond to any kind of treatment. Moreover, in the case of tonic-clonic seizures, there is a high risk of sudden death.
A chronic condition such as epilepsy requires adequate management
Given the fact that epilepsy can be a lifelong condition, adequate management is required to keep matters under control and prevent the seizures from appearing (when possible).
The most important thing is that one follows the treatment to the letter, taking the medication on time and avoiding the potential seizure triggers. With regard to the anti-seizure drugs, one can rely on health apps, such as CareClinic, to set up reminders. The health app can be used as a highly effective medicine tracker, plus you can resort to it to record your thoughts and feelings, and to analyze each seizure in depth.
Thanks to CareClinic, you will never miss your medication and, thus, protect yourself against severe seizures. You can record additional information about your health status and share the generated reports with your doctor, working together to find better treatment alternatives.