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 Epilepsy

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Debbie Lou
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Number of posts : 218
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Registration date : 2007-05-20

PostSubject: Epilepsy   Tue Mar 11, 2008 9:40 am

What are the causes?


The brain consists of more than 100 billion nerve cells. These all communicate with one another; some provoke others into sending further messages (excitation), while others tend to block them (inhibition).
The proper working of the brain depends on a balance: too many nerve cells sending messages at once without enough being blocked can produce a sort of electrical storm - or a seizure.
Common causes include brain damage from birth injuries, head injuries, stroke, brain tumours and alcoholism. Some seizures probably have a genetic basis, although it's rare for epilepsy to run in families. However, no one cause has been found.
Who's at risk?


We're all at risk of developing epilepsy; in fact, each of us has a one in 50 chance of developing the condition at some point in our lives.
Seizures can occur without any obvious cause, but the risk is much greater in those who've had brain damage. These seizures can occur many years after the injury.
Certain recreational drugs (cocaine, for example) and alcohol can induce seizures. And while the first seizures can be brought on by the drug in question, eventually spontaneous seizures may occur even after drug use has stopped.
Epilepsy, except in rare circumstances, isn't inherited, although the risk of developing epilepsy may be increased slightly in relatives of those who have the condition.
Types of seizure


There are two types of seizure:

  • partial seizures, which begin in one part of the brain, then spread to affect other parts
  • generalised seizures, which start in both sides of the brain at once and cause the person to lose consciousness


What a person experiences during a seizure and what's seen by others depends on where it starts and how far and how quickly the 'storm' spreads.
Seizures can take many forms and don't always involve losing consciousness or convulsions (when the muscles relax and tighten rhythmically). Most are sudden and short-lived, lasting a matter of seconds or minutes.
Simple partial seizures may be no more than the rhythmical twitching of part or all of a limb, an unusual taste, or a sensation of pins and needles in one part of the body. These can develop into other sorts of seizures, and are sometimes called 'warnings' or 'auras'.
Seizures should be considered as a possible cause of recurring episodes of confusion or strange behaviour, especially if the events are short-lived.
Absence seizures - a brief interruption of consciousness - should be suspected in children who are having repeated lapses in concentration lasting seconds.
Myths and misconceptions


Many myths and misconceptions surround epilepsy. Some date back to the Middle Ages, when seizures were thought to be a form of possession by spirits. Other myths have existed until more recent times, one being that epilepsy can be caused by masturbation, with castration used as a 'treatment'.
People are often unaware of the following facts:

  • epilepsy is common and can affect anyone
  • most people with epilepsy successfully control their seizures with drugs
  • most people with epilepsy can lead normal lives
  • epilepsy often gets better, allowing people to come off the drugs
  • epilepsy is very rarely inherited
  • violence during a seizure is rare and people having a seizure aren't a threat to others
  • most seizures aren't dangerous to the person having them


This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks in October 2006.
First published in May 2002.




Diagnosis


Absence seizures - when the child appears to be daydreaming or 'switched off' but is in fact momentarily unconscious - often go unrecognised despite occurring many times a day.
In a busy classroom, the teacher may mistake such episodes as straightforward lapses of concentration or inattention.
Unrecognised seizures at night can also affect school performance during the day.
Once a child has been properly diagnosed as having epilepsy, it's possible to get the right medical and educational help.
Help at school


The majority of children with epilepsy attend mainstream schools. Only a minority who have epilepsy and learning difficulties, or severe epilepsy, need to attend special schools.
Many children with epilepsy under-achieve at school. Epilepsy and anti-epileptic drugs can impair a child's ability to learn. Recent treatments cause fewer problems with memory, and completely control seizures in most children.
Low expectation, poor school attendance and low self-esteem can all contribute to poor school performance. Good communication between school, parents, child and doctor is essential.
If it's likely that a child will have a seizure at school, it's often worthwhile educating the other children in the class about seizures and epilepsy. Education packages for schools are available from a number of charitable organisations (see useful contacts).
Children with epilepsy should be encouraged to join in school activities and shouldn't feel restricted by their epilepsy.
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