Epilepsy is a neurological disorder causing seizures and/ or periods of unusual behavior and sensations. Sometimes loss of awareness is also seen in epileptic conditions. Often epileptic individuals simply stare blankly for a few seconds during the course of the seizure, while some repeatedly twitch their limbs.
There are 2 types of epileptic seizures. They are:
Focal seizures are result of abnormal activity in an area of the brain. They are in turn classified as focal seizures without loss of consciousness and focal seizures with impaired awareness. In focal seizures without loss of consciousness, there will be an alteration in their emotions or change in the sensory perceptions. Other sensory symptoms include such as tingling, dizziness, and flashing lights. An involuntary jerking of a body part is characteristic of this kind of focal seizure. Staring and not responding to the environment or repetitive movements are characteristic of focal seizures with impaired awareness.
Generalized seizures occur in almost all parts of the brain. There are 6 types of this seizures such as absence seizures, tonic seizures, atonic seizures, clonic seizures, myoclonic seizures, and tonic-clonic seizures.
What are the Symptoms of Epilepsy
Abnormal functioning of the brain and seizure affecting the brain coordination leads to epilepsy. The signs and symptoms include the following:
- Temporary confusion
- Staring blankly
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the limbs
- Loss of consciousness
- Psychic symptoms such as fear and anxiety
What are the Causes of Epilepsy
The causes of epilepsy are traced to various factors. They are as follows:
- Genetic influence
- Head trauma
- Brain conditions such as brain tumors or strokes trigger epilepsy due to damaged brain
- Infectious diseases such as meningitis, which causes inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, leads to an increase in the risk
- Prenatal injury caused by an infection in the mother, poor nutrition, or oxygen deficiency
- Developmental disorders such as autism and neurofibromatosis
How is Epilepsy Diagnosed
Diagnosis of epilepsy involves a series of examinations and tests performed by a trained practitioner. Following are some diagnostic techniques:
- Neurological examination, where the behavior, motor abilities, and mental function are evaluated
- Blood tests are performed to detect any infection and genetic condition associated with seizures.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG) records the electrical activity of the brain, which in turn is used for the diagnosis
- Computerized tomography scan reveals abnormalities in the brain causing seizures such as tumors, bleeding, and cysts
- Magnetic resonance imaging detects lesions or abnormalities in the brain
- Positron emission tomography helps to visualize the abnormalities in the brain
- Neuropsychological tests help assessing the thinking, memory and speech skills, thus helping in determining the affected areas
- Magnetoencephalography measures the magnetic fields produced by brain activity and thus helps in identifying potential areas of seizure
How is Epilepsy Treated?
There is no 100% cure for epilepsy though its symptoms and severity can be reduced using various therapies. If therapies do not work, surgery is recommended.
Anti-seizure medication or an anti-epileptic medication helps patients relieve from the symptoms of epilepsy. Epilepsy when diagnosed at an early stage can be treated significantly using an anti-epileptic, though early diagnosis is highly next to impossible.
When therapies fail, epilepsy surgery is recommended, where parts of the brain that is affected with seizures is removed. Many people continue to take medications after surgery to prevent recurrence.
Apart from surgery, vagus nerve stimulation is also performed as a treatment option. In this technique a vagus nerve stimulator is placed in the patient’s chest and wires from the stimulator are connected to the vagus nerve in the neck. This device when powered by a battery sends electrical stimulations to the brain thereby treating the seizures. But this technique is known to have a success rate of just 20%-40%.
The final conventional option for treatment is the deep brain stimulation, where electrodes are implanted into the thalamus. These electrodes are connected to a generator implanted in the chest, thereby sending electrical pulses to the brain. This helps reduce seizures.
Stem Cell Therapy for Epilepsy
Stem cells are programmed to become neurons and treat the scarred region. They help normal electrical functioning of the neurons and halt the seizures. When mesenchymal stem cells were used for treatment, results showed therapy achieving disease remission. The number of responders by seizure frequency was significantly high. The repair of neurons also improved memory and mood.