Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder, one that causes unprovoked and recurrent seizures, episodes of erratic electrical activity within the brain. It’s most commonly found in young children and older adults, and slightly more frequently in males. All told, about three million US adults and 470,000 children suffer from the disorder.
Epilepsy is a treatable condition, and most people can lead normal lives if they’re able to get their seizures under control. In some cases, epileptic children can outgrow the disorder as they get older.
Memphis Neurology has locations in Germantown, Tennessee and Southaven, Mississippi, where our expert team of neurologists offers epilepsy monitoring and treatment services using a holistic, or “whole person” approach. Here’s what you need to know about epilepsy and the types of seizures it can produce.
What triggers epilepsy?
About 50% of epileptics don’t have an identifiable cause for their condition. For the rest, causes include:
- Genetics: some forms of epilepsy are hereditary, and some genes make an individual more sensitive to environmental triggers
- Head trauma: from injuries, such as sports or a car accident
- Brain conditions: such as tumors and strokes; the latter is the leading cause of the disorder in adults over 35
- Infectious diseases: including viral encephalitis, meningitis, and AIDS
- Prenatal injury: includes oxygen or nutrient deficiency and infections
- Developmental disorders: such as autism
To get a diagnosis of epilepsy, you must have at least two seizures without an identifiable trigger (unprovoked) that happen at least 24 hours apart.
The different types of epileptic seizures
Doctors classify seizures by where the abnormal electrical activity begins.
Focal seizures (sometimes called partial seizures) stem from activity that takes place within a single area of the brain. They come in two types, and the symptoms vary depending on which type you have.
A simple focal seizure doesn’t involve loss of consciousness. Symptoms include:
- Changes to sensations of all five senses
- Tingling and twitching of limbs
Complex focal seizures involve loss of awareness or consciousness. Symptoms include:
- Blank stare
- Perform repetitive movements (e.g., chewing, rubbing hands, walking in circles)
The symptoms of both times are easily confused with other neurological disorders, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from your neurologist to ensure proper treatment.
Generalized seizures involve abnormal activity in the whole brain. There are six types:
- Absence seizures (previously “petit mal seizures”): characterized by a blank stare; repetitive movements such as lip-smacking or blinking; and a short loss of awareness
- Tonic seizures: muscle stiffness
- Atonic seizures: loss of muscle control; fall down easily
- Clonic seizures: repeated, jerky muscle movements of face, neck, and arms
- Myoclonic seizures: spontaneous, quick twitching of arms and legs
- Tonic-clonic seizures (previously “grand mal seizures”): shaking, stiffening of the body, loss of bladder or bowel control, tongue biting, loss of consciousness, and no memory of the event
The type of treatment you need depends on the type and severity of the seizure.
Treating epileptic seizures
Here at Memphis Neurology, we always start with a conservative approach to treatment, such as prescribing anti-seizure medications. Some people only require a single drug to control or eliminate their seizures, but others need a combination. The goal is to at least decrease the frequency and intensity of the seizures, if not eliminate them altogether.
An alternative is vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), where we implant an electronic device under the skin of your chest that sends bursts of electrical energy through the vagus nerve in your neck and, ultimately, to your brain. Many patients see a 20-40% decrease in seizure frequency.
A second possibility is deep brain stimulation, where the surgeon implants electrodes into a specific brain area, usually the thalamus. It operates on a similar principle to VNS.
A third possibility is a ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low-carb regimen that seems to help decrease seizure frequency. As there are side effects, you'll need to be medically supervised.
If you’re experiencing signs of epilepsy, it’s time to come into Memphis Neurology for a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan. Give us a call at either location to schedule a consultation with one of our neurologists, or book online with us today.