Epilepsy is a word used to describe a wide variety of “chronic neurological disorders” That are characterized by seizures. In order to understand epilepsy it is important to realize that it is not a single disorder, but a syndrome that has “vastly divergent symptoms that involves seizures and abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Over 2 million people in the US have been diagnosed with epilepsy. It is one of the first brain disorders to be diagnosed as such. In 400 BC ,Hippocrates, the great early physician, described epilepsy as a brain disorder. Despite the documentation of epilepsy as a brain disorder the strange behavior that is sometimes seen during seizures has lead to many prejudices and superstitions throughout history. For example, it was once believed that people with epilepsy were being possessed by gods and demons. Not only are people with epilepsy not possessed, they are also not contagious. I must say I was surprised to discover just how many people believed epilepsy to be contagious, it is not. Annother misunderstanding is that epilepsy is caused by mental illness, it is not. However, it is possible for someone with mental illness to have epilepsy. Also, just because a person has epilepsy does not mean they will develop mental illness.
There are five ways in which epilepsy syndromes are classified based on clinical observations and EEG results.
1. By their cause
2. By the observable manifestations of the seizures.
3. By the location in the brain where the seizures originate.
4. As part of a discrete, identifiable medical ayndrome.
5. by the event that triggers the seizures, such as flashing lights, or loud noises.
There are also different types of seizures within each classification. They are divided into two types, partial onset seizures and generalized seizures, depending on the area of the brain where the seizure originates. Partial onset seizures are also divided into simple partial or complex partial seizures depending on how consciousness was affected. Generalized seizures always involve a loss of consciousness so it’s the effect the seizure has on the body that determines the type of generalized seizure is present. There are six types of generalized seizures, petit mal. grand mal, myochlonic, clonic, tonic, and atonic. Just as there are different classifications and types of seizures there are muultiple epileptic syndromes characterized by one or more types of seizures.
Currently epilepsy can not be cured however, for some it does eventually go away. some experts say that children diagnosed with epilepsy of unknown origin had a “68-92% chance of becoming seizure free by 20 years after their diagnosis.” Adults diagnosed with epilepsy may not become completely seizure free however, it is possible that they may decrease over time. Epilepsy that is well controlled with medication or if the person has had surgery has a greater chance of the seizures eventually stopping.