What is epilepsy?

Normally, the brain works by sending out electrical impulses through nerve cells to other nerve cells or to the rest of the body’s muscles or organs. In order for a human being to move and think, this communication is necessary.

Epilepsy occurs as a result of abnormal electrical activity originating in the brain. This abnormal electrical activity interrupts the signals sent between different areas of the brain, thus reducing the brain’s normal function. At the same time, signs of abnormal functionality occur. The different types of epilepsy manifest themselves in different types of seizures.

There are two main types of epileptic seizures: Generalised seizures affecting the whole brain, and focal, or partial seizures, which affect only one part of the brain. The focal seizure might involve the whole brain at the end of the seizure, and is thus referred to as a secondarily generalised seizure.

What are the symptoms of epilepsy?

During a seizure, there is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain, because the impulses between the nerve cells are out of control. The impulses will however return to normal after the seizure. The seizure is usually short, lasting from seconds to minutes – the diagnosis is made after recurring, similar seizures.

The symptoms include:

  • Alterations to sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing, or touch
  • Tingling and twitching of limbs
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Salivation and sweating
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Unresponsiveness

How should a witness react during a seizure?

The symptoms above can occur before, during and after a seizure attack, and can also occur with or without loss of consciousness, but frequently the symptoms occur in an unconscious state. When a person has a seizure, it is important to do the following:

  • Make sure the person is safe
  • After the seizure, put the patient in recovery position
  • Do not put objects in the mouth of a person going through a seizure
  • Stay with the patient
  • Talk calmly and be reassuring to the person during and after the seizure
  • Seek immediate medical assistance if the seizure lasts more than a couple of minutes.

What are the causes of epilepsy?

There are several causes of epilepsy, and in some cases, it is not possible to find a cause. Everyone can experience a seizure if the influencing factors are strong enough. Genetics play an important role when it comes to how vulnerable a person is to seizure triggers. Often the cause of epilepsy is a change in the brain, such as congenital deformities in brain tissue, damages to the brain tissue caused by blood clots, brain tumours or external damages, infections of the brain, and various brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

How is epilepsy treated?

Epilepsy is treated using anti-seizure drugs, and around 20 of these exist today. The drugs have different effects and also different side effects. To improve the effect of the treatment, it is sometimes necessary to take several anti-seizure drugs simultaneously. One of the most common drugs used to treat epilepsy is lamotrigine, which is efficient in treating both generalised and focal seizures. It does have a few side effects however, such as dizziness, headaches, fatigue and insomnia.

Additionally, a lifestyle with plenty of sleep, a low alcohol consumption and regular meals is important in preventing seizures. Furthermore, it is important to avoid situations where a seizure is very dangerous, such as various types of sports.

If you have epilepsy, it is important to inform those closest to you about your situation, as it is crucial for your surroundings to know how to react in case of serious seizures.

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