Mental Disorder : Epilepsy

Introduction
Epilepsy is a symptom of a neurological disorder. It is also a physical condition that produces brief disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain. Epilepsy is characterized by sudden brief seizures. These seizures may vary in nature and intensity from person to person.

A person having epilepsy experiences recurrent seizures or brief episodes of altered consciousness. These are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Epilepsy usually develops in childhood and may be gradually outgrown. Elderly people are also at risk of developing epilepsy. They are more likely to have conditions that can cause epilepsy, such as strokes.

Many people with epilepsy lead a normal life. But people having recurrent seizures may have to limit their lifestyle to some extent.

What are Seizures?
Talking about epilepsy, it is important to understand what are seizures. A seizure is commonly referred to as a fit or a convulsion. A seizure may appear as a brief stare, an unusual movement of the body and a change in awareness. Normally a seizure may last a few seconds or a few minutes.

It is not necessary that the cause of all seizures is epilepsy. A number of factors can affect the brain that may cause a single seizure, like: high fever, severe head injury or trauma and lack of oxygen.
The condition is called epilepsy when seizures continue to occur for unknown reasons (idiosyncratic) or because of an underlying problem that cannot be corrected (symptomatic).

Causes
Causes of epilepsy are not clear. An epileptic seizure is caused by a brief disruption of brain function involving temporary abnormal electrical activity in the nerve cells. In some cases recurrent seizures may be the result of disease or damage to the brain caused by an infection, such as meningitis, a stroke, a brain tumor, or scarring following a severe head injury. In some cases epilepsy might be inherited. Epilepsy that runs in families suggests an underlying metabolic or genetic etiology. But this is the least common of epilepsy causes.

In people with epilepsy, seizures may be triggered by lack of sleep or by missing a meal. Other trigger factors may include excessive alcohol consumption, flashing lights and flickering television and computer screens.

A single seizure may not be caused by epilepsy. For example, high fevers in children can result in febrile convulsions. Alcohol abuse over a long period may also cause a seizure. This can either be while drinking heavily or during withdrawal from alcohol. Very low blood glucose levels, which can occur as a result of treatment for diabetes mellitus, can also trigger a seizure.

Treatment
It is important to consult a doctor if you lose consciousness due to an unknown reason or if someone witnesses you having a seizure. It would be better if you could get full details of the seizure from the witness. Give the doctor detailed description of the seizure you experienced.

The doctor will then arrange for a few tests and look for an underlying reason of the seizure. If you have recurrent seizures and no cause is found, you may have an EEG (Electroencephalogram). With EEG the doctor looks for abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It also helps to diagnose the particular type of epilepsy. CT scan and MRI are other ways to know structural abnormalities in the brain that may cause epilepsy.

It is very vital to know what type of seizures a person has. This will determine which anti-epileptic drug is most likely to be of benefit. In cases where drugs are not effective, surgery might be required.

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