What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder often caused by stroke or brain tumors. Symptoms usually consist of fainting, dizziness, muscle spasms, and twitching.
Epilepsy, sometimes called a seizure disorder, is a chronic neurological disorder in which your brain goes through abnormal activity that triggers a seizure. Seizures are the main indicator of epilepsy, with each episode lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
In the United States, epilepsy is one of the most common disorders affecting the brain, and it can affect all ages and genders equally. In fact, about 5.1 million Americans have a history of epilepsy, and 3.4 million have active epilepsy, in which they experience repeat seizure episodes.
Epilepsy affects people in different ways, and it may result in unintentional movement on one side of the body, both sides, or no movement at all. There are many types of epilepsy and seizures, so it's important to know the signs and symptoms, and the best ways to handle this disorder.
Signs and symptoms of epilepsy
Since epilepsy isn't just one disease, it can have a variety of symptoms. You may experience seizure warning signs such as:
Symptoms of a seizure may include:
- Uncontrollable twitching and jerking
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of consciousness
- Staring spells
- Temporary confusion
- Unusual sensations
- Changes in mood
In general, doctors group symptoms into two broad categories based on body movement: focal and generalized.
Symptoms of focal seizures
Focal seizures, also called partial seizures, affect one part of the brain. You might experience twitching, weak muscles, rigid muscles, or body spasms. You may start doing repetitive movements like lip smacking, clapping, or rubbing hands together. Along with these symptoms, you may have goosebumps or a racing heart, or may experience changes in mood or thinking.
Symptoms of generalized seizures
Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain at the same time. Your body movements are similar to those of focal seizures, but you may also experience spasms in your entire body. For non-motor symptoms, you may have staring spells or twitches in the eyelids or elsewhere.
Causes of epilepsy
In about half of all cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown. In the cases where the cause is known, it is often the result of an injury, genetic factor, neurological condition, or infection.
Some types of genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, Dravet syndrome, Unverricht-Lundborg disease, and Lafora disease, can cause epileptic episodes. These conditions either begin at birth or during childhood, with seizures as an early symptom.
Neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease, cerebral palsy, and autism spectrum disorder can lead to epilepsy. In children, about 20% of all developmental neurological conditions can result in epileptic seizures.
Babies can develop epilepsy if they experienced damage to the brain before birth. Some types of damage include getting poor nutrition, being deprived of oxygen, and getting an infection from the mother.
Infectious diseases like HIV, meningitis, and viral encephalitis can cause epileptic seizures. You might also develop epilepsy from infections that affect your brain. These can include bacterial infections, parasitic infections like malaria and neurocysticercosis, and viral infections like influenza, Zika, and dengue.
IMAGESBrowse our medical image collection to see examples of MRI brain scans, PET scans, and other imaging techniques used to diagnose and treat brain disorders See Images
When to see the doctor for epilepsy
Experiencing a seizure can be frightening, so it's important to check in with your doctor. Call an ambulance or seek immediate medical help if you have a seizure and one or more of the following symptoms or conditions:
Your doctor will take note of your symptoms, along with any symptoms a friend or family member witnessed. They'll also order tests such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), a magnetoencephalogram (MEG), a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan.
Your doctor will order blood tests to check for infections or metabolic and genetic disorders that might be causing the seizures. They may order or conduct behavioral or neurological tests, as well.
Treatments for epilepsy
Treatment for epilepsy and its seizures depends on the type and frequency of the condition. In most cases, doctors prefer treating with anti-seizure medication, with one medication prescribed at a time.
In addition, your doctor may recommend dietary changes depending on how you respond to the medication. Diets like the ketogenic diet, which is high-fat and low-carbohydrate, have shown good promise in reducing the number of seizures. Other diets, like Atkins and low-glycemic, may help too.
Surgery may be another outcome if your seizures don't respond well to medication or dietary changes and have caused significant complications for your health
Latest Neurology News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Epilepsy Can Follow Traumatic Brain Injury."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Frequently Asked Questions About Epilepsy."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Epilepsy Fast Facts."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Seizure First Aid."
Epilepsy Foundation: "Warning Signs of Seizures."
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry: "Genetics of epilepsy."
Merck Manual: "Seizure Disorders."
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "The Epilepsies and Seizures: Hope Through Research."
The Oncologist: "Seizure Prognosis in Brain Tumors: New Insights and Evidence-Based Management."
Top What Are the Main Causes and Symptoms of Epilepsy Related Articles
Carnexiv (carbamazepine) InjectionCarnexiv (carbamazepine) injection is an anticonvulsant indicated as replacement therapy for oral carbamazepine formulations, when oral administration is temporarily not feasible, in partial seizures with complex symptomatology, generalized tonic-clonic seizures, mixed seizure patterns which include the above, or other partial or generalized seizures. Common side effects of Carnexiv include dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, double vision, headache, infusion-related reaction, infusion site pain, and anemia.
Do Seizures Come in Clusters?Yes, seizures can come in clusters. The term seizure clusters is used when three or more seizures that occur within 24 hours (or within six hours as defined in some studies).
Elepsia XR (levetiracetam)Elepsia XR (levetiracetam) is a prescription medicine taken by mouth that is used with other medicines to treat partial onset seizures in people 12 years of age and older. Common side effects seen in people who take Elepsia XR include flu, sleepiness, irritability, nasal congestion, sore throat, and runny nose (nasopharyngitis), dizziness, and nausea.
Seizures QuizDo you know the difference between seizures and epilepsy? What are the types of seizures? Take the Epilepsy & Seizures Quiz to test your knowledge and learn about this complex disorder of the brain.
Epilepsy SlideshowLearn about epilepsy symptoms and treatment for this seizure condition. Discover the definition of epilepsy, how epilepsy is diagnosed, epilepsy medications, and how epilepsy dogs help people with seizures.
Epilepsy TreatmentEpileptic seizures mostly controlled through drug therapy, particularly anticonvulsant drugs. Types of treatment prescribed depends on several factors including the frequency and severity of the seizures as well as the person's age, overall health and medical history. Other forms of treatment options also exist including ketogenic diet and electrical stimulation.
How Do You Stop Multiple Seizures?Seizures are a medical emergency. Whether the seizure is a first-time onset or a recurring episode, it is advisable to dial 911 and call for help. A group of drugs called benzodiazepines is usually administered to stop multiple seizures.
How Successful Is Surgery for Epilepsy?Epilepsy surgery is a neurosurgical procedure to prevent or reduce the occurrence of epileptic seizures. Epilepsy surgery involves removal or surgical alteration of the part of the brain from which epileptic seizures originate. Success depends on the condition, procedure and severity of the epileptic condition; epilepsy covers many different seizure disorders.
Nayzilam (midazolam)Nayzilam (midazolam) is a prescription medicine used for the short-term treatment of seizure clusters (also known as “acute repetitive seizures”) in patients 12 years of age and older. Nayzilam is a federal controlled substance (C-IV) because it can be abused or lead to dependence. Serious side effects of Nayzilam include impaired mental alertness including memory problems and increase in eye pressure in people with acute narrow-angle glaucoma.
Seizalam (midazolam) InjectionSeizalam (midazolam) Injection is a benzodiazepine used to treat status epilepticus in adults. Concomitant use of benzodiazepines and opioids may result in profound sedation, respiratory depression, coma, and death. Side effects of Seizalam include upper airway obstruction, agitation, fever, and decreased tidal volume and/or decreased respiratory rate.
Seizure (Epilepsy)Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which the person has seizures. There are two kinds of seizures, focal and generalized. There are many causes of epilepsy. Treatment of epilepsy (seizures) depends upon the cause and type of seizures experienced.
Sesquient (fosphenytoin sodium)Sesquient (fosphenytoin sodium) is an anticonvulsant used to treat generalized tonic-clonic status epilepticus in adult patients and to prevent and treat seizures occurring during neurosurgery in adult patients and for short-term substitution for oral phenytoin in patients 2 years of age and older. Side effects of Sesquient include itching, involuntary eye movements (nystagmus), dizziness, sleepiness, vomiting (in children), loss of coordination, ringing in the ears, nausea, and low blood pressure.
Surgical Options for EpilepsyEpilepsy is mostly treatable with medication, but this method is not effective for about 30% of patients. In some cases, brain surgery may be an option. Epilepsy surgery is an operation on the brain to control seizures and improve the person's quality of life.
Sympazan (clobazam)Sympazan is a prescription medicine used along with other medicines to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome in people 2 years of age or older. Concomitant use of benzodiazepines and opioids may result in profound sedation, respiratory depression, coma, and death. The most common side effects of Sympazan include sleepiness, drooling, constipation, cough, pain with urination, fever, acting aggressive, being angry, or violent difficulty sleeping, and slurred speech. tiredness problems with breathing
What Are the Risks of Epilepsy Surgery?Epilepsy surgery comes with the risk of tissue and nerve damage, meningitis infection, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, among others specific to each procedure. Epilepsy surgery is a neurosurgical procedure to prevent or reduce the occurrence of epileptic seizures. Epilepsy surgery involves removal or surgical alteration of the part of the brain which is the focal point for onset of seizures.
What Is a Cluster Seizure?Cluster seizures are episodes of increased seizure activity in which two or more seizures occur in 24 hours. Multiple seizures occur one after the other typically with a recovery period between each seizure and are different from a person’s usual seizure pattern.