Seizure (Epilepsy) - Share Your Experience

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What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain sometimes signal abnormally. Neurons normally generate electrochemical impulses that act on other neurons, glands, and muscles to produce human thoughts, feelings, and actions. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior, or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. During a seizure, neurons may fire as many as 500 times a second, much faster than normal. In some people, this happens only occasionally; for others, it may happen up to hundreds of times a day.

More than 2 million people in the United States have experienced an unprovoked seizure or been diagnosed with epilepsy. For about 80 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with modern medicines and surgical techniques. However, about 25 to 30 percent of people with epilepsy will continue to experience seizures even with the best available treatment. Doctors call this situation intractable epilepsy. Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy.

Epilepsy is not contagious and is not caused by mental illness or mental retardation. Some people with mental retardation may experience seizures, but seizures do not necessarily mean the person has or will develop mental impairment. Many people with epilepsy have normal or above-average intelligence. Famous people who are known or rumored to have had epilepsy include the Russian writer Dostoyevsky, the philosopher Socrates, the military general Napoleon, and the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, who established the Nobel Prize. Several Olympic medalists and other athletes also have had epilepsy. Seizures sometimes do cause brain damage, particularly if they are severe. However, most seizures do not seem to have a detrimental effect on the brain. Any changes that do occur are usually subtle, and it is often unclear whether these changes are caused by the seizures themselves or by the underlying problem that caused the seizures.

While epilepsy cannot currently be cured, for some people it does eventually go away. One study found that children with idiopathic epilepsy, or epilepsy with an unknown cause, had a 68 to 92 percent chance of becoming seizure-free by 20 years after their diagnosis. The odds of becoming seizure-free are not as good for adults or for children with severe epilepsy syndromes, but it is nonetheless possible that seizures may decrease or even stop over time. This is more likely if the epilepsy has been well-controlled by medication or if the person has had epilepsy surgery.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: Barnes, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: November 01

I was diagnosed with epilepsy after I had my first seizure when I was 6 years old. I have been on numerous medications, from Dilantin, Depakote, Tegretol and many others over the last 51 years. At the age of 20 I was able to deliver a healthy son but have not been able to drive and cannot get employment, because my seizures escalated and I was laid off work. I take Dilantin 200 mg 4 times per day plus Tegretol XR 200 mg 4 times per day and clorazepate 7.5 mg 4 times per day. Even though I am under a neurologist's care my seizures have not stopped. I have a minimum of 10 seizures per day. The clorazepate pills that I take help stop any extra seizures that I may have late in the afternoon. I call it the "magic pill". I really would love to have a normal life as I am confined to my home and have to rely on my husband to take me to any appointments I may have. With all this medication I have to take I have added a lot of weight and now I have arthritis because I cannot go out on my own and exercise.

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Comment from: 41967, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: February 04

I had my first epilepsy seizure at age 18. I was rushed to a hospital which diagnosed me as having a drug problem. When I regained consciousness my parents wanted answers from me. Well, so did the doctors. Guess what, I wanted answers too. My primary physicians sent me for an EEG. I was diagnosed with epilepsy, not drugs. I was first put on phenobarbital. I was having emotional difficulties dealing with the diagnosis. I stopped taking my medications but when the seizures started again, that was my wake. The phenobarbital was not enough so later Dilantin was added. I was always sleepy so phenobarbital was removed. I've been on Dilantin for about 27 years. I see a few of the side effects. My gums have receded, so I have trouble with hot and cold beverages. I get blood work every year to check my levels. I've only had one emergency visit to the hospital. I have grand-mal seizures. It took me about 3 years to get them under control. I still can't do bright flashing lights. I go into a catatonic stare. I try to avoid emergency vehicles. I'm very aware of the onset of a seizure. I get an awe of something is about to happen. My seizures can be quite violent with dropping, head twisting, body spasms and sometimes screaming. I never remember much when I regain consciousness. It's like a feeling that you have a gap in your memory. I'm blessed because the doctors were able to control my seizures with medicines, I had my license reinstated, which was a major hurdle for me. I'm still learning what can trigger my seizures, i.e., child birth, birth control, alcohol. I have a list.

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