Epilepsy is synonymous with seizure disorder.  There are many forms of seizure disorders based mainly on the area of the brain involved.  The brain has electrical activity that is generated deep within the brain.  When another area of the brain acts as a focus to generate different electrical activity, this electrical discharge is considered seizure activity.  Extra electrical activity involving both cerebral cortices may result in loss of consciousness and bilateral stiffening and jerking movements of the arms and legs.  If the abnormal electrical discharge is only on one side of the brain, then the patient is more likely to remain awake and have jerking movements on only one side of the body.  Other seizures may cause extra sensory symptoms, staring spells, déjà vu and olfactory hallucinations (smelling smells that don’t actually exist).

The causes of epilepsy are varied.  Some people are born with a tendency to have seizures, resulting from genetic predisposition or from damage while in utero or during birth, while others may acquire it later on in life, often following stroke, head trauma or infection. In an individual predisposed to seizures, certain environmental triggers may provoke them.  Examples include some over the counter medications (such as dextromethorphan), prescription drugs (such as some antibiotics and antidepressants), flashing lights, sleep deprivation and emotional stress.  Women will often experience catamenial seizures (or seizures linked to the menstrual cycle).

Anticonvulsants, the medications used to prevent seizures, usually act to block the transmission of  these extra electrical discharges.  There are often associated with side effects such as sedation and mental clouding.  Many are restricted during pregnancy because of increased risk of teratogenicity (or malformations of the fetus).  Other treatments include epilepsy surgery in which the irritable focus is removed and implantation of a Vagal Nerve Stimulator, a pacemaker device that delivers continuous electrical discharges that block seizure activity.

Seizures are generally not “cured” but are rather suppressed with medication.  However, greater than 30 percent of people do not achieve adequate control of their seizures even when taking multiple medications.

The proper response to a person having a seizure is to avoid placing your hands in their mouth. The seizing person should be rolled to the side to prevent ingestion of fluids into the lungs which can lead to choking and death.  EMS should be contacted if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes.

Epilepsy Diet

Diets high in fat and very low in carbohydrates may reduce seizures.  Such a diet causes neurons (brain cells) to switch from using sugar as fuel to keone bodies (fat byproducts).


Citizens United in Research for Epilepsy
Epilepsy Foundation

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