What you need to know
When it comes to epilepsy, knowledge is power. Whether you’ve had epilepsy for years or you are newly diagnosed, the more you know, the more you can do to control epilepsy and live life on your terms
What is epilepsy?
Let’s start with the basics: Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which people experience repeated seizures. It is a neurological condition that causes the brain to produce sudden bursts of electrical energy. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and are characterized by a variety of symptoms. These can range from simple blank staring, to jerking limb movements to convulsions and a brief loss of consciousness.
What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy can result from a birth defect, birth or head injury, brain tumor, or an infection in the brain. It can also be inherited. But for many people with epilepsy, a cause cannot be found. Epilepsy is not contagious.
Epilepsy can occur for the first time at any age.
What is a seizure?
A seizure is the abnormal electrical release of cells, called neurons, in the brain. This can cause different symptoms based on the location of the seizure and where the abnormal electrical activity spreads. Not all seizures are the same. They can range from tingling in a finger to grand mal (generalized) seizures, during which people lose consciousness, become stiff, and jerk.
What is the difference between seizures and epilepsy?
Seizures are a symptom of epilepsy. Epilepsy is the underlying tendency of the brain to release electrical energy that disrupts other brain functions. So the seizure is the symptom of this underlying condition. Having a single seizure does not necessarily mean a person has epilepsy.
What are the different types of seizures?
It is important you know the kind of seizures you have so you can seek the best treatment. Here is an overview of different types of seizures:
Which doctors treat epilepsy?
In general, epilepsy is first discovered by a primary care doctor (e.g., pediatrician, internist, or family physician). If that doctor suspects epilepsy, he or she is likely to refer the patient to a neurologist, a doctor with special training in disorders of the brain, including epilepsy. Some neurologists have specific training in epilepsy and spend most of their time treating people with this disorder; they are called epileptologists.
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
An accurate account of what occurred is crucial. If possible, take notes and bring someone who saw you having the seizure with you to the neurologist’s office. The neurologist or epileptologist will carefully review your medical history. Next, your neurologist may scan an image of your brain. This includes either a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan of the brain and an electroencephalogram (EEG, or brain-wave test). These tests can predict whether you are likely to have a second seizure and if you’ll need treatment.
How can I better manage my epilepsy?
The more you take control, the better you can manage your epilepsy. Following doctors’ orders and taking medication as it is prescribed is essential.
How many people in Canada have epilepsy?
Approximately 300,000 people in Canada have epilepsy. Epilepsy can occur in males and females at any age, but is most frequently seen in the very young and the elderly. There are more than twice as many people in Canada with epilepsy as the number with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis combined.