Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that produces unprovoked and recurrent seizures — abnormal electrical activity within the brain. Epilepsy can strike anyone, but it’s most common in young children and older adults, affecting about three million adults in the US and 470,000 children.
Epilepsy isn’t curable, but it’s treatable, and patients can lead normal, healthy lives if they learn to manage the seizures.
Our expert team of neurologists at Memphis Neurology offers a wide range of epilepsy monitoring and treatment services. The key to effective treatment is to get an accurate diagnosis, so the team has put together this guide on ways your doctor may diagnose epilepsy.
Depending on where the abnormal electrical activity in the brain begins, epilepsy can be divided into two big categories.
1. Focal seizures
Also known as partial seizures, focal seizures originate in a single brain area. They may occur with a loss of consciousness or impaired awareness or without either one, with the specific symptoms depending on which brain area is affected.
Focal seizure symptoms can easily be confused with other neurological disorders, including various mental illnesses, migraine, and narcolepsy. That’s why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis, so your neurologist can determine what treatment will be most effective.
2. Generalized seizures
Generalized seizures appear to arise from multiple areas of the brain at the same time and can be subdivided into six different types:
- Absence seizures (previously called petit mal)
- Tonic seizures
- Atonic seizures, or “drop” seizures
- Clonic seizures, which affect the face, neck, and arms
- Myoclonic seizures
- Tonic-clonic seizures (previously called grand mal)
No matter what type of seizure you have, it’s important to seek out medical attention.
What triggers epilepsy?
About 50% of epileptics have an idiopathic condition: there’s no identifiable cause. For the rest, causes include:
Genetics: some forms of epilepsy are inherited, and some genes make an individual more susceptible to environmental triggers
Head trauma: including sports or car accidents
Brain conditions: including tumors and strokes, the latter being the leading cause of epilepsy in adults over 35
Infectious diseases: including viral encephalitis, AIDS, and meningitis
Prenatal injury: including oxygen or nutrient deficiency and infections
Developmental disorders: such as autism
To get an epilepsy diagnosis, you need to have at least two unprovoked seizures that occur at least 24 hours apart.
5 ways your doctor may diagnose epilepsy
At Memphis Neurology, diagnosis begins with a complete neurological exam that may include tests such as:
- Blood tests: a CBC and chemistry panel assess your overall health and identify infections, anemia, or diabetes that could trigger seizures
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): monitors brain waves
- Neuropsychological tests: identify brain area(s) where abnormal activity arises
- MRI scans: identify any disorder that provoked seizure and determine seizure type
- Epilepsy monitoring unit: special hospital unit for continuous monitoring of brain activity
Which test or combination of tests your doctor orders depends on your overall health, your symptoms, and the results of your physical exam.
Treating epileptic seizures
Here at Memphis Neurology, we always start with conservative treatment, such as prescribing anti-seizure medications, with the goal of decreasing the frequency and intensity of the seizures, or possibly eliminating them.
If you don’t respond to medications, we also offer:
- Vagus nerve stimulation: an implanted device sends regular electrical pulses to brain
- Deep brain stimulation: implanted electrodes in specific brain area, often the thalamus
- Ketogenic diet: high-fat, low-carb regimen; must be medically supervised
Your doctor will decide on specific treatments based on your symptoms and which option is likely to produce positive results in your specific case.
If you have epilepsy, or if you’ve recently had your first seizure, it’s time to come into Memphis Neurology for a complete evaluation and accurate diagnosis. Give us a call at either location, or book online today.