What is epilepsy? Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes recurring seizures. An abnormal area in your brain sometimes sends bursts of electrical activity that cause your seizures. A birth defect, tumor, stroke, dementia, injury, or infection may cause epilepsy. The cause of your epilepsy may not be known. If your seizures are not controlled, epilepsy may become life-threatening.
What are the signs and symptoms of an epileptic seizure? An epileptic seizure usually lasts a few seconds to a few minutes. Your signs and symptoms will depend on which area of your brain is affected. You may experience any of the following:
- Uncontrolled jerking of an arm or leg
- Head or eyes turn to one side of your body
- Tingling along one side of your body
- Flashing lights on one side of your field of vision
- Feelings of fear or that you have already experienced the moment
- Intense memory flashbacks
- Unpleasant taste or smell
- Behavioral changes, such as staring, confusion, or repeating an action over and over
How is epilepsy diagnosed? Your caregiver will ask about your health conditions and what medicines you take. Tell him when your seizures occurred and how often. Your caregiver will need a detailed description of your seizure. If possible, bring someone who has seen your seizure with you to your visit. You may need any of the following:
An EEG records the electrical activity of your brain. It is used to find changes in the normal patterns of your brain activity.
A CT scan or an MRI takes pictures of your brain to check for abnormal areas. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have anything metal in or on your body.
How is epilepsy treated? The goal of treatment is to try to stop your seizures completely. You may need any of the following:
Medicines will help control your seizures. You may need medicine daily to prevent seizures or during a seizure to stop it. Do not stop taking your medicine unless directed by your caregiver.
Surgery may help reduce how often you have seizures if medicine does not help. Ask your caregiver for more information about surgery for epilepsy.
What are the risks of epilepsy? After a seizure you may feel confused or have a headache. The recovery phase can last minutes or up to 2 weeks. Epilepsy may increase your risk for depression and anxiety. Fear of seizures may affect your independence, such as driving, employment, and social relationships. Seizures can cause serious injury or sudden death.
What do I need to know about epilepsy?
Take your medicine every day at the same time to prevent seizures and side effects.
Keep a seizure diary to help you find your triggers and avoid them. Write down the dates of your seizures, where you were, and what you were doing. Include how you felt before and after. Possible triggers include illness, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, alcohol, drugs, lights, or stress.
Create a care plan. Tell family, friends, and coworkers about your epilepsy. Give them instructions that describe how they can keep you safe if you have a seizure.
Find support. You may be referred to a psychologist or social worker. Ask your caregiver about support groups for people with epilepsy.
Ask what safety precautions you should take. Talk with your caregiver about driving, swimming, and bathing.
Wear a medical alert bracelet or carry a card that says you have epilepsy. Ask your caregiver where to get these items.
How can others keep me safe if I have an epileptic seizure? Give the following instructions to family, friends, and coworkers:
Do not hold me down or put anything in my mouth.
- Protect me from injury. Remove sharp or hard objects from the area surrounding me or cushion my head.
- Time how long my seizure lasts. Call 911 if my seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes or if I have a second seizure.
- Stay with me until my seizure ends. Let me rest until I am fully awake.
Do not give me anything to eat or drink until I am fully awake.
When should I contact my caregiver?
- You feel you are not able to cope with your diagnosis.
- Your seizures happen more often.
- After your seizures you are confused longer than you usually are.
- You are planning to get pregnant or are currently pregnant.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek care immediately or call 911?
- Your seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
- You have trouble breathing.
- You have a second seizure that happens within 24 hours of your first.
- You are injured during a seizure.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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