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: mary, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: June 20

I am soon going to an epilepsy clinic. I am so scared because of the exposure of my seizures to others I do not know. My daughter has recorded my seizures which I do not want to see. I am often woken by these seizures. I have many seizures. The most my daughter has recorded was in hospital, 116 in a 12 hour period. I hate them so much. The results of having so many have slowed my motor skills and thinking, plus speech. Inside of my mind I still think like myself but outwardly I speak like a child learning to put words together. I live moment to moment not knowing when this monster will escape. I understand what seizures are but to me they are a torment.

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Comment from: bobbi, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: July 21

I have not yet been diagnosed with epilepsy but my neurologist feels it is a seizure disorder, not sure what kind. I am going for an EEG and other testing. But from the symptoms I described, like having blackouts and not remembering them, she is concerned and prescribed me topiramate which I will not take due to many side effects.

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