James White, MD: A common question I am often asked is, "What exactly is a seizure?" A seizure is abnormal electricity coming from the brain. Let me give an example.
Imagine I was having a seizure coming from the left side of my brain, which controls the right side of my body . This surge of electricity over the left side of my brain can cause abnormal movements in my right arm—most often jerking movements. So, again, a seizure is abnormal electricity coming from part of the brain that can cause symptoms such as jerking. Seizures come in many different types- for example, sometimes jerking episodes; some may consist of staring and unresponsiveness.
Another common question that we are asked is "Do I have epilepsy?" Epilepsy is defined as two or more unprovoked seizures. Let me give an example. A healthy 35 year-old male is at a meeting. For no identified reason, he suddenly collapses to the floor and has a full body convulsive seizure. He recovers after a few minutes. After the first seizure, he does not have epilepsy. If he has a second seizure, then he will then meet criteria to have epilepsy. Education about what epilepsy is can be very important for many patients and families.
Every patient who has seizure activity wants to know the cause. Knowing the cause of the seizure activity is extremely important. Reasons such as stroke, meningitis or a brain tumor could be the cause of a patient's seizures. Approximately half of patients with epilepsy have no identified cause.
Seizures and epilepsy are common. Nine percent of the general population will have a seizure during their lifetime! Most people are surprised to here that high number! 2.2 million people in the United States have epilepsy. The chance of developing epilepsy is 1 in 26.
It is important to know that care and resources are available for individuals and their families who are affected by epilepsy. Effective treatments that can reduce or eliminate seizures and improve quality of life are available. If you or a family member have been affected by seizures or epilepsy, talk to your doctor for more information about how to access specialized epilepsy care.
James White, MD: Epilepsy is a condition that has several treatment options. It is very important for treatment to be tailored to the individual. For the majority of individuals with epilepsy, seizure medications are used to stop seizures. There are greater than 20 antiepileptic medications that are currently available.
The goal of treatment is to completely control the seizures with little to no undesirable side effects. Most patients can achieve this goal- no seizures and no side effects. However, approximately 1/3 of people with epilepsy will not have their seizures controlled by medications alone.
Seizures that are not controlled within the first 12 months of treatment or after trying a second antiepileptic medication could mean that a person has what is known as refractory or difficult to control epilepsy. For these individuals brain surgery or an implanted device may help to control seizures. New advances in technology and surgical techniques are improving outcomes for individuals that have difficult to control epilepsy.
If you or someone that you know is having uncontrolled seizures or undesirable side effects from their antiepileptic medications talk to your provider about seeing an epilepsy specialist. An epilepsy specialist can discuss and recommend an individualized treatment plan that may not only improve seizure control but quality of life as well.
James White, MD: Epilepsy can negatively impact a person's quality of life in many ways. The unpredictable nature of seizures can be a major problem in school, employment, and of course, driving. Think about the impact of a child having a seizure in the middle of class- this can be very stressful. For many jobs, having a seizure can be dangerous. For those who work at heights or around heavy machinery the risk of injury from seizure activity can be very high .
Driving is also often restricted in patients with seizures. Driving restrictions are a huge deal to many patients. Driving restrictions can make it a major challenge to work, take care of your family or to socialize.
Other important issue for people with epilepsy are problems with depression, anxiety or other mood disorders. People with epilepsy have a higher likelihood to develop mood disorders than the general population. Seizures can cause stress- which may contribute to depression or other psychological problems. Also, research suggests seizure activity can lead to chemical changes in the brain- such as hormones and neurotransmitters, that could also lead to the development of mood problems.
Individuals with epilepsy often have memory complaints. This is an important issue- because doing ones best in school, work or taking care of family requires your best memory and concentration. There are many factors that can cause memory problems: seizures and medication side effects are common factors that can significantly impair memory in some individuals with epilepsy.
Recognizing the symptoms of common problems associated with epilepsy, and seeking support for them, can improve the quality of life of those that face these challenges.
There are many resources available that can help people learn to live with and understand epilepsy. Talk to your health care provider for more information on resources for epilepsy education and support.
Julie Hanna, MD: Epilepsy can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. It is important that women with epilepsy understand how epilepsy and its treatment can affect reproductive health, including pregnancy. In the United States there are at least half a million women with epilepsy who are of childbearing age. A majority of these women are able to have healthy and uncomplicated pregnancies.
The two major issues affecting women with epilepsy who are pregnant, or considering pregnancy, are: how epilepsy and seizure medications affect the developing baby, and what impact pregnancy has on seizure control.
Pregnancy can impact a woman's seizure control. Hormonal changes and other pregnancy-related changes can influence seizure frequency, in part because of their impact on the metabolism of seizure medications. Seizures during pregnancy can worsen, improve, or stay the same. Studies indicate that for women whose seizures are controlled for at least 9 months prior to becoming pregnant, their seizures are likely to remain controlled throughout pregnancy.
While some seizure medications can cause problems for a developing baby, there are medications that have been found to be safer to take during pregnancy. These medications are associated with low risk or no risk of serious medical problems or fetal malformations for the developing baby. Additionally, studies show that women with epilepsy who are of childbearing age can take vitamin supplements, like folic acid, to further reduce the risk of fetal malformations.
While certain seizure medications can pose a risk to the development of a baby, not taking seizure medications can result in serious problems for the health of both mother and baby. For most women with epilepsy, the safest strategy for a healthy pregnancy is to continue to take seizure medication.
It is important that women with epilepsy know that it is possible to have a healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy. If you are a woman with epilepsy who is considering pregnancy, or who is pregnant, talk to your doctor about seeing an epilepsy specialist. An epilepsy specialist can provide you with the important information and care you need.
Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the U.S. More than 2.2 million Americans have epilepsy. Epilepsy can affect people at any age or stage of their life, but occurs more frequently in children under the age of 1 and adults over the age of 55.
If you or someone you know has epilepsy, we can help.
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Allina Health, in collaboration with Minnesota Epilepsy Group, offers comprehensive evaluation and treatment options for children and adults with seizures, including new onset or first-time seizures.
Patients receive care from specialists with expertise in treating epilepsy, physiological and psychological non-epileptic events, and brain tumors. Most people can achieve good seizure control through medication or other treatment.
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Learn about epilepsy and seizures, including how epilepsy is diagnosed and treated.
Source: Minnesota Epilepsy Group
Reviewed by: Sarah Engkjer, MA, RN, Minnesota Epilepsy Group
First Published: 06/13/2014
Last Reviewed: 10/08/2014