Basics of Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures distressing a variety of mental and physical functions. When a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy. A seizure is a sudden event caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. When identifiable, the causes of epilepsy usually involve some form of injury to the brain. For most people, though, epilepsy's causes aren't known.

Although most people think of someone having a seizure as being unconscious and shaking all four limbs, seizures can actually be apparent in many different ways. Sudden periods of staring or unresponsiveness, jerking, muscle tightening, sudden drops to the floor and muscle twitching can all be seizures.

The term epilepsy refers to a predisposition to having seizures and is usually diagnosed when someone has more than one seizure. About two million Americans have epilepsy. Of the 125,000 new cases that develop each year, up to 50 percent are in children and adolescents. Individuals with disabilities may have a significantly higher predisposition to having seizures than other individuals.

Epileptic seizures often happen without warning, although some people may have anaura at the start of a seizure. A seizure ends when the abnormal electrical activity in the brain stops and brain action begins to return to normal. Seizures may be either partial or generalized. Partial seizures occur when this electrical activity remains in a limited area of the brain. The seizures may sometimes turn into generalized seizures, which affect the whole brain.

Doctors generally begin by treating epilepsy with medication. If medications don't treat the condition, doctors may propose surgery or another type of treatment. In some circumstances you may be able to decrease the frequency and intensity of their seizures by taking medications. Your doctor will advise you about the appropriate time to stop taking medications. Your doctor likely will first prescribe a single medication at a relatively low dosage and may increase the dosage gradually until your seizures are well controlled