What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system. With this condition, nerve cell activity within the brain becomes disrupted, resulting in symptoms including seizures and loss of consciousness.
What are the causes of epilepsy?
Epilepsy has no apparent cause in approximately half of patients who live with the condition. In the other half, the cause has been linked to a variety of factors, including:
- Brain disorders. Conditions such as stroke or brain tumors can cause epilepsy
- Disease. Certain infectious diseases such as viral encephalitis, meningitis or AIDS can cause epilepsy
- Genetics. Certain types of epilepsy tend to run in families
- Prenatal injury. Some factors such as poor nutrition, oxygen deficiencies or an infection can result in the fetus developing epilepsy or cerebral palsy
- Trauma. Injury to the brain as the result of a motor vehicle accident (MVA) or other type of accident may result in epilepsy
What are the symptoms of epilepsy?
Epileptic seizures can affect the way your brain functions. Symptoms of a seizure may include:
- A staring spell
- Loss of awareness or consciousness
- Momentary confusion
- Sudden, uncontrolled jerking movements of the limbs
- Triggered emotions or previous experiences that may result in feeling anxious or frightened (psychic symptoms)
Symptoms of an epileptic seizure may vary depending on the type of seizure occurring.
Focal (Partial) Seizures
This type of seizure is due to abnormal activity in one section of the brain, and falls into two categories:
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness, which may change emotions in patients or the way things look, feel, taste, smell or sound to them. These seizures may also cause sudden jerking movements and sensations such as tingling or flashing lights
- Focal dyscognitive seizures (complex partial seizures), which may involve patients staring into space and not responding to what’s around them. Patients may also make random repetitive movements, such as chewing, swallowing or walking in circles
Symptoms of focal seizures may mimic other neurological disorders, such as a migraine or narcolepsy.
Generalized seizures are seizures that seem to involve all sections of the brain. Types of generalized seizures include:
- Absence seizures. Formerly known as petit mal seizures, these typically occur in children and are defined by the symptoms of staring into space or subtle body movements (e.g., lip smacking, blinking). Absence seizures can happen in clusters and may cause temporary loss of awareness
- Atonic seizures. Also known as drop seizures, this type causes loss of muscle control, which may result in the patient suddenly collapsing or falling down
- Clonic seizures. These are associated with jerking, rhythmic muscle spasms, usually in the face, neck or arms
- Myoclonic seizures. Myoclonic seizures typically involve sudden, brief jerking or twitching movements in the limbs
- Tonic seizures. This type of seizure causes the muscles in the back, arms and legs to become rigid. Patients may fall during a tonic seizure
- Tonic-clonic seizures. Formerly known as grand mal seizures, tonic-clonic seizures have the most dramatic symptoms and may cause sudden loss of consciousness, body shaking and rigidity, a loss of bladder control or tongue biting
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
There are a variety of diagnostic tests to confirm an epilepsy diagnosis, including:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan. During CT, X-ray images are taken to produce cross-sectional images of the bone, blood vessels and soft tissues in the face to check for any compression or abnormality
- Electroencephalogram (EEG). The most common test performed to confirm epilepsy, an EEG uses electrodes attached to the scalp to record brain activity
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. With this test, magnetic fields and radio waves are utilized to produce images of the soft tissues in the face to check for any compression or abnormality
- Neuropsychological tests. During this type of testing, thinking, speech and memory are assessed to determine which parts of the brain have been affected by seizure activity
- Positron emission tomography (PET). PET harnesses the power of low-dose radioactive material, which is injected into the brain to illuminate active areas in the brain so physicians can search for abnormalities
How is epilepsy treated?
Epilepsy is usually successfully treated with medication and regular follow-up appointments with a physician to monitor the condition.
Surgery for epilepsy is generally only performed if the seizures are occurring in a well-defined part of the brain that does not involve any major functions such as speech, vision or hearing. Dr. Goodman works closely with neurologists specializing in the treatment of epilepsy, offering surgical intervention to patients when appropriate.