Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where a person suffers sudden recurrent seizures, including loss of consciousness or convulsions. Epilepsy may be a symptom of a number of different brain diseases, but many people who have epilepsy are otherwise normal. Seizures are not necessarily a sign of epilepsy, and to be considered to have epilepsy a person must have multiple unprovoked seizures caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting roughly four percent of people at some point throughout their lifetime. People can develop epilepsy at any age, although it is most commonly diagnosed in early childhood and in the elderly.
- 65 million people currently have epilepsy worldwide
- 47,000 New Zealanders have epilepsy
- Four percent of all people will suffer from epilepsy at some point in their lifetime
Signs and Symptoms:
Seizures can vary considerably in frequency, severity, symptoms and length. Some epilepsy sufferers may experience one seizure every few years, whereas others may experience several per day with some seizures being very brief and others lasting for several minutes.
Seizures range in symptoms depending on the type of epilepsy and the part of the brain that is affected. Symptoms of seizures may include loss of consciousness or awareness, changes in sensation and feeling and sudden convulsions.
Causes and Treatment:
There are a range of known causes for epilepsy, although in up to 65 percent of cases the cause is still unknown. For cases we do understand, common causes include head injury, infections that cause scarring on the brain and other brain disorders that alter the physiology of the developing brain.
Medication can be used to relieve symptoms in up to 70 percent of epilepsy patients. In some patients medication can be withdrawn after a few years. In a few selected patients surgery, vagal nerve stimulation or a ketogenic diet are effective in treating seizures.