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Epilepsy is a common disorder of the brain that manifests as attacks of sudden and repeated seizures or convulsions. A seizure in itself is a sudden abnormal electrical activity in the brain that manifests with visible motor or sensory symptoms and signs. For a person to be diagnosed as having epilepsy, the person usually must have had at least two episodes of these seizure attacks with no other reversible medical causes of seizures – like extremely low blood sugar, tumour in the brain, excessive consumption of alcohol or use of hard drugs – identified.

Seizures and by extension epilepsy can develop in any person at any age but it is more common in young children and elderly persons.

What Happens During a Seizure?

A seizure event can be divided into 3 phases:

  • Pre-ictal phase
  • Ictal phase
  • Post-ictal phase

In the pre-ictal phase, there is usually a pre-warning sign known as an aura that occurs before a seizure attack. This does not happen for everybody that has epilepsy. For those that experience an aura, it may manifest in different forms like persistent headaches, abdominal signs or feeling of intense fear.

The Ictal phase of a seizure may present with visible or invisible signs. The commonest visible sign is jerking of some or all parts of the body, commonly described as convulsions. There may be foaming in the mouth, loss of consciousness, passage of urine and/or stool and biting of the tongue.

Post-Ictal phase starts as the seizure ends. This is basically the recovery period. Some persons recover completely immediately after a seizure, while some may take as much as 24 hours.

What Causes Seizures/epilepsy?

In many cases, the exact cause of seizures may not be known. In few cases where an underlying cause can be pointed at, these causes usually vary according to age.

Some causes of recurrent seizures in children include: brain infections, brain malformations, prolonged lack of oxygen supply to the brain during birth, low blood sugar, blood chemical derangements, maternal drug use and in-born errors of metabolism.

In older persons, common causes may include genetic factors, head trauma, down syndrome, neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis and progressive brain diseases.

What Triggers a Seizure Attack?

There are certain situations that may precipitate or provoke a seizure attack in a person with epilepsy. It is important to known these factors in other to avoid them or eliminate them where possible. Some of these factors include:

  • Lack of sleep or disrupted sleep pattern
  • Psychological stress
  • Illness (especially febrile illness)
  • Inadequate body nutrients (especially vitamins and minerals)
  • Dehydration – inadequate water intake or excess water loss from diarrhoea or vomiting.
  • Rapidly flashing lights like seen in disco rooms
  • Television, video games or computer screens
  • Use of cocaine or recreational drugs
  • Heavy alcohol use.

How is Epilepsy Managed?

There are numerous medications that are effective for control of epilepsy. These medications are usually prescribed by doctors who specialize in managing seizure disorders called neurologists. When a person is diagnosed with this condition, it is important to remain on medications as prescribed. With good compliance, it is usually possible to keep seizure attacks under control.

Facts versus Myths in our environment about Epilepsy

  1. Epilepsy is caused by evil spirits.

This is false as it has been proven that epilepsy arises due to abnormal electrical activities in the brain. With appropriate and adequate medical intervention, seizures can be controlled. So there is no basis for ascribing epilepsy to spiritual causes.

  1. Epilepsy is infectious.

People usually tend to run away from patients having a fit on the assumption that coming in contact with any of their body fluids like saliva, urine or faeces can transfer the condition to them. This is not true. Epilepsy is not infectious in any way.

  1. Orthodox medicine is ineffective against Epilepsy, but can be cured by use of herbal medication

Unfortunately, this too is not true. Herbal medications rather tend to worsen the condition by precipitating imbalance in blood chemicals, a situation we had identified earlier to be a cause of seizures.

  1. Tongue can be swallowed during a seizure attack.

People will rush to insert hard objects like spoons into the mouth of a person having a fit. This practice is wrong and harmful. It is physically impossible to swallow the tongue. Rather, patient may bite the tongue with the teeth, which will heal after a while.

Things to do during a Seizure

  1. Do not restrain someone having a seizure. Instead, try to clear the immediate surroundings to prevent physical injury while fitting. Most seizures will end on their own in a few seconds to minutes. If seizure does not end after a few minutes, call an ambulance.
  2. Never force an object into the mouth of someone having a seizure including medications. Instead, gently roll the person to lie on the side, support the head and make sure their breathing is okay. Also, protect patient from injury.

Does Epilepsy restrict someone from Physical Activity?

A patient diagnosed of epilepsy may be giving some lifestyle modification guidelines by his or her doctor to improve quality of living. Some examples of such life style modifications include:

  1. A person with epilepsy is not allowed to drive vehicles until he is certified by his/her doctor as having achieved adequate seizure control and by the vehicle licensing authority as fit to drive.
  2. A person with epilepsy is not allowed to swim alone without informing lifeguards of his/her condition.
  3. A person with epilepsy is not advised to drive bicycles, motor cycles or engage in strenuous physical sports like mountain climbing, skiing, or horse racing.
  4. Avoid areas with bright lights like disco rooms, cinemas, working long hours on computers, playing video games or watching television for long periods; as these may trigger an epileptic fit.
  5. Such persons can travel as passengers in aircrafts or other vessels, but it is best if such journeys are undertaken after adequate seizure control has been achieved. It is advised to always undertake such trips with adequate amounts of medication to cover for the duration of the trip.

In conclusion, epilepsy is a common medical condition and is not caused by spiritual attacks in any way. Persons with this condition can live a normal and productive life under appropriate medical management. What is most important for every patient with a chronic medical condition such as epilepsy is to get as much accurate medical information as is possible to enable you adequately take care of yourself and contribute to your own medical management.

Source: Wikipedia, The Epilepsy Foundation, National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic

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