Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder that affects 2.7 million people in the United States, making it one of the most common disorders of the nervous system - impacting people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds.
A seizure is generated by abnormal electrical discharges from brain cells, a kind of misfiring that disrupts normal function, producing anything from a change in a person's consciousness to uncontrolled movements and/or sensations. Epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurring seizures.
The disease remains a mystery to scientists in many ways, although many strides have been made in recent years, as new antiepileptic medications have become available and advanced brain imaging technologies have brought new hope to many.
There are many potential causes of epilepsy. Tumors, strokes and brain damage from illness or injury can all cause epilepsy. There are genetic causes of epilepsy as well. In some cases, however, the source of the disorder is not understood.
There are many different types of seizures, and people with epilepsy may experience one or more types. The kind of seizure a person has depends on which part and how much of the brain is affected by the electrical disturbance that produces seizures.
Seizures are generally divided into two different types. There are generalized seizures and partial seizures. A generalized seizure occurs when a burst of electrical energy sweeps through the whole brain at once, causing a loss of consciousness, falls, convulsions (also called "tonic clonic seizures") or muscle spasms.
Often people with seizures describe a warning or a change in feeling or movement at the beginning of the seizure. The warning is sometimes called an aura and is a partial seizure. The following explains the terminology and describes more specifically the different kinds of seizures.
Focal seizures take place when abnormal electrical brain function occurs in one or more areas on one side of the brain. Focal seizures may also be called partial seizures. With focal seizures, particularly with complex focal seizures, a person may experience an aura before the seizure occurs. An aura is a strange feeling, either consisting of visual changes, hearing abnormalities or changes in the sense of smell. Two types of focal seizures include the following:
Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain. There is loss of consciousness after the seizure occurs. Types of generalized seizures include the following:
The BWH Bromfield Epilepsy Program has extensive experience in identifying and treating non-epileptic seizures. The symptoms of the two conditions are very similar. As with epileptic seizures, those who experience a non-epileptic seizure experience a variety of similar abnormal movements, such as falling or shaking, unconsciousness, or other symptoms. Due to the similar symptoms, physicians will often use medications designed to treat epilepsy to treat non-epileptic seizures. This is usually ineffective and may even increase the frequency of these non-epileptic seizures. The multidisciplinary team at the BWH Bromfield Epilepsy Program, however, can use the video EEG monitoring program to safely investigate the possibility that a patient is experiencing non-epileptic seizures and adjust their treatment accordingly, thereby improving their quality of life.
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