What is Epilepsy?

By  , Expert Content
Mar 21, 2012

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Epilepsy is a brain disorder, which causes disturbances in electrical signalling in the brain. In the disorder, the clusters of nerve cells or neurons in the brain signal bizarrely at times. Neurons are the functioning unit of the brain and they produce electrochemical impulses that act on other neurons, glands and muscles to control the functioning of various organs and produce human thoughts, feelings and actions.

A healthy brain generates about 80 pulses of energy per second. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed and the neurons can generate energy pulses much more rapidly i.e. as many as 500 per second for a short duration as a result of an electrical disturbance in the brain. This burst of electrical activity can cause strange sensations, emotions and behaviour or convulsions, muscle spasms and loss of consciousness. It may happen occasionally or up to hundreds of times a day.

If a person has a seizure, it does not necessarily mean that he or she has epilepsy. Epilepsy is diagnosed only if a person has had two or more seizures. Seizure is a symptom of epilepsy, but all seizures are not caused by epilepsy. Some causes of seizures besides epilepsy include:

  • High fever,
  • Head injury,
  • Certain drugs,
  • Low blood sugar,
  • Some diseases such as diabetes,

Epilepsy is not a contagious disease. It is not caused due to mental illness or mental retardation. A person with mental retardation is at higher risk of having seizures, but if a person has seizures, it does not mean that he or she has or will develop mental impairment. In fact, a person with epilepsy may have normal or above-average intelligence. Seizures, however, can cause brain damage, especially if it is prolonged and severe. Most seizures, however, do not cause any damage to the brain. In most cases, changes in brain and intellect are usually subtle and it is difficult to determine if the changes are caused by the seizures or by the underlying disorder that caused the seizures.

Advances in management of epilepsy have considerably improved the prognosis. According to studies in about 80 percent of people with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with treatment. Regrettably, in about 25 to 30 percent of patients with epilepsy, seizures do not get controlled even with the best of available treatment. This type of condition is called intractable epilepsy.


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