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Understanding Epilepsy

Mar 29, 2024

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Understanding Epilepsy

Published by Claudia Giunta. 

If you’ve ever attended a concert with strobe lights or watched a video with numerous heavy effects, chances are there may have been an epilepsy warning before it started. This is because strobe lights and other highly visual effects can trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States after migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Approximately 1 in 26 individuals will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime. It’s important to understand what epilepsy is, how to recognize what happens during a seizure, and how to respond and provide first aid when someone is experiencing a seizure.  

Nova Vita Solutions

Our healthcare professionals at Nova Vita will help you manage your epilepsy through our holistic services. We understand that each of our patients has a unique health concern and our services are tailored to each individual through a personalized wellness plan. Our NAD+ (a coenzyme central to metabolism) infusions increase the amount of NAD+ in brain cells to help support cognitive function and neuroplasticity with the creation of enzymes. Research shows that NAD+ supports brain health by supporting neurotransmission, learning, and memory. NAD+ can help patients with epilepsy by suppressing the death of brain cells.

Ongoing research shows that ketamine has emerged as a possible treatment for various conditions, including seizures. Ketamine blocks the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR), which sends pain signals and other messages to your brain. With proper medical guidance, ketamine infusions may help address refractory epilepsy symptoms. Although this treatment is still in its research phase, Nova Vita medical professionals can work in conjunction with a patient’s neurologist to ensure the best outcomes. To better understand how our services can aid your health concerns, visit our website or schedule a consultation today.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that disrupts the brain’s electrical network, causing repeated seizures. When someone experiences a seizure, their brain is flooded with an uncontrollable rush of electrical energy, encouraging many debilitating symptoms.

Normally, the brain continuously generates small, orderly electrical impulses that travel among neurons and throughout the body. In epilepsy, the brain’s electrical rhythms often become imbalanced, causing recurrent seizures. When experiencing a seizure, the brain’s electrical pattern is disrupted by bursts of electrical energy that may affect someone’s consciousness, movements, or sensations. 

Does a Seizure Always Mean Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a blanket term covering a wide range of seizure-based disorders. You can experience seizures without being diagnosed with epilepsy. Epilepsy is commonly diagnosed after a patient experiences at least two seizures more than 24 hours apart that were not caused by a known medical condition (alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar). 

Epilepsy means a patient has an unprovoked seizure, with a high risk of future unprovoked seizures. Other conditions apart from epilepsy may cause seizures, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or alcohol withdrawal. If these are the causes of a seizure this would be considered a provoked seizure and not be classified as epilepsy. 

Types of Seizures

Typically, seizures are classified into two basic categories: primary generalized seizures and focal (partial) seizures. The main difference between these types is how they begin. Primary generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain at once; focal seizures begin with an electrical discharge in part of the brain.

Generalized Seizures:

Absence Seizure: Also known as “petit mal seizures,” this type of seizure appears as a brief period of loss of awareness. During these episodes, the individual may experience a blank stare, and mild, uncontrolled, and repetitive actions (blinking, lip smacking, muscle jerking, and twitching). Absence seizures are commonly seen in young children but can occur at any age. They are often challenging to identify because they only last a few seconds and typically don’t cause long-term problems.

Atonic Seizure: Atonic seizures, or “drop seizures” cause a sudden loss of muscle control in which an individual loses control of their muscles and suddenly falls to the ground. 

Myoclonic Seizure: An individual may experience random and rapid twitching movements in the arms and legs for a few seconds during a myoclonic seizure. This type of epilepsy is often seen along with other forms of seizures and is one of the more common epilepsy syndromes in children.

Tonic Seizure: A tonic seizure will cause someone to exhibit sudden body stiffness, often in their arms, legs, and abdominal muscles.

Clonic Seizure: A clonic seizure means someone experiences repetitive and strong jerking motions often seen in the face, neck, and limbs.

Tonic-Clonic Seizure: Also known as “grand mal seizures,” a tonic-clonic seizure includes stiffness, shaking, tongue biting, loss of bladder and bowel movement, and loss of consciousness.

Focal Seizures

Simple Focal Seizure: This type of focal seizure impacts a small section of the brain at a time. Depending on the brain’s affected area, symptoms may range from mild twitching to experiencing a change in sense of smell or taste.

Complex Focal Seizures: A complex focal seizure will cause an individual to become confused, and disoriented; they may be unable to answer simple questions or follow directions.

What Causes Epilepsy?

The cause of epilepsy isn’t always identifiable. However, typically for adults, epilepsy is caused by a brain injury such as a stroke, brain tumor, head trauma, brain infection, or brain bleed such as a ruptured aneurysm. A small, abnormal brain development during childhood may cause epilepsy in adulthood (without obvious symptoms throughout life). 

In children, genetic changes of a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury may cause epilepsy. A hypoxic-ischemic brain injury occurs during delivery when the baby loses oxygen to their brain.

Other common risk factors for epilepsy include: 

  • Premature birth or low birth weight
  • Seizures in the first month of life
  • Abnormal brain structures at birth 
  • Brain tumors
  • Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
  • Cerebral palsy 
  • Mental disabilities
  • Family history of epilepsy 
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Alzheimer’s disease

How is Epilepsy Diagnosed? 

A doctor makes their epilepsy diagnosis based on symptoms, physical signs, and typically an electroencephalogram test (EEG). An EEG records the brain’s electrical activity by picking up the electrical signals from the brain cells, essentially showing the brain’s performance. Other common tests a doctor may request include a computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see if there are abnormalities in the brain that can cause seizures. Once epilepsy is diagnosed and the doctor can tell if it’s a generalized or focal seizure, they will determine which medications or surgical interventions will help the case long-term. 

How is Epilepsy Treated?

Epilepsy for both children and adults is first treated with an anti-seizure medication. Typically, if medication works, people with epilepsy will end up taking medication for the rest of their lives. Your doctor may add a second or third medication if the first doesn’t work, and a doctor may suggest epilepsy surgery if medications are ineffective. With surgical intervention, doctors will locate where the seizure takes place and remove that area of the brain only if doing so would lead to a better life for the patient. 

If medications don’t work and a patient doesn’t qualify for epilepsy surgery, a doctor may consider neurostimulation. Neurostimulation involves surgically placing a device under the skin on a person’s chest to stimulate the vagus nerve or directly on the brain to send electrical signals that help manage and disrupt the electrical disruptions that cause seizures.

Bottom Line

Epilepsy can be a frightening diagnosis, and if not diagnosed and properly controlled, a person can lose a lot of their independence. However, with well-controlled epilepsy, whether it’s through proper medication or successful surgery, patients will be able to live a fulfilling life. Around 70% of epilepsy patients could live seizure-free through medication or surgery. No matter how epilepsy affects a person, it is critical to remain well-informed about the condition, be consistent with treatments, and keep a positive attitude. Working closely with a healthcare team is essential to helping control seizures so patients can live a balanced, independent life. For more information on how Nova Vita’s services can aid your path to wellness, contact us today!