An in-depth report on the types, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of epilepsy.
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that is marked by recurrent seizures. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain function caused by abnormalities of the brain's electrical activity. There are many types of seizures.
Epilepsy can affect people of all ages but is most common in young children and older adults. Some types of epilepsy are inherited and are due to genetic factors. Other possible causes of epilepsy include brain injuries due to head trauma or oxygen deprivation at birth. In many cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown (idiopathic).
A health care provider will diagnose epilepsy based on a person's medical history, description of seizures, and various diagnostic tools. The most important diagnostic tool is the electroencephalogram (EEG), which allows providers to record and analyze brain waves. Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used.
The goal of epilepsy treatment is to control seizures. Many different types of anticonvulsant (anti-epileptic) drugs are available to treat epilepsy. Some people need only one drug, while others may need to take several drugs.
For people who have not been helped by medication, surgery or a neurostimulation device may be options. Dietary changes, such as the ketogenic diet, have shown promise in helping children with severe epilepsy.
Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) can cause many side effects. Pregnant women with epilepsy need to take special precautions, because some of these drugs (particularly valproate) can cause birth defects.