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An Overview of Epilepsy, Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Epilepsy is a disease that affects the nervous system and causes the body to have seizures. Expert researchers at the Mayo Clinic (2019) tell us that it is a disease that affects the central nervous system where the activity in the brain causes a person to lose control and behave differently. This loss of control of the body is like having a seizure. According to the Epilepsy Foundation and Fisher (2014), the difference between epilepsy and common seizures is that epilepsy is the recurring action of having seizures which means a seizure is an event, but epilepsy is a disease. This disease affects every area of a person’s biological, neurological, and psychological being. This makes it difficult for those who suffer with this disease to have a normal social life because the seizures can happen at any time without any warning.

Causes & Symptoms

According to Fisher (2014), there are two things that determine if a person has epilepsy. Fisher suggests:

  1. At least two unprovoked (or reflex) seizures occurring greater than 24 hours apart.
  2. One unprovoked (or reflex) seizure and a probability of further seizures similar to the general recurrence risk (at least 60%) after two unprovoked seizures, occurring over the next 10 years.


Diagnosis & Treatment Methods

It can sometimes be hard to determine if a person is having a seizure. It can look like a blank stare, or it can be a person twitching, or moving arms and legs uncontrollably. Doctors will test brain function for behavior, motor skills, and mental function to see if there are any abnormalities. They will also conduct blood tests for infections or genetic history to determine what is happening. If there are signs of abnormalities, then a series of other tests will be conducted to understand the cause and severity of the seizures. The most common is the EEG (electroencephalogram) where electrodes are attached to the head and brain activity is recorded. In addition, other test may be used such as a CT scan, MRI, fMRI, PET scan and SPECT to determine brain activity.

Deciding to make a diagnosis of epilepsy is not the same as deciding to treat seizures. Some people feel that they do not need medication because the seizure is considered mild and may not happen often; this is another way to avoid side effects of drugs. Some of the side effects of drugs can be fatigue, dizziness, memory problems, weight gain, skin rashes, depression, suicidal thoughts, and inflammation of organs. Treatment decisions depend on each case and is determined by a person’s doctor and the severity or frequency of the seizures. However, it takes a long time to determine if it should be called epilepsy or if it’s simply seizures. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic (2019) state that many times people outgrow epilepsy, while some cases last a lifetime. However, treatment can be medications or even surgery to control epileptic seizures for most people. Newer treatments include therapies such as vagus nerve stimulation and the keto diet. Vagus nerve stimulation is a device that is inserted under the skin and it sends small shocks to the brain similar to a defibrillator. The keto diet breaks down fats instead of carbohydrates and has implications for decreasing seizures.

Support Groups

When dealing with diseases as complicated as epilepsy it is encouraged to have strong support groups that a person can depend on. Friends and family need to understand and learn about the disease, and even join a group for people who suffer with it or who have family members that are affected by it. The more people know about it, and understand the myths about it, they can better control their own negative emotions and ignore people who have no idea of what is going on. The Epilepsy Foundation has lots of information and support groups specific to parents with children who have epilepsy, family networks, adult and teen support groups, travel assistance programs and even respite care programs and support. The idea is that providing support for the whole family unit is important for adjusting to a diagnosis, learning about medication and side effects, how to live and function well with the disease, and even support for extreme cases. People come together, listen, encourage and relate to others who have the same or similar challenges.

Mickie’s Miracle is a faith-based non-profit organization that supports pediatric epilepsy. This organization promotes awareness, education, and advocacy of epilepsy in children.


Epilepsy is a disease that affects boys and girls, men and women of all ages. It can last a lifetime or people who have it in childhood can outgrow it. While it is scary to watch and hard to understand because of the seizures and not being able to control the body, it can be treated through medication, surgery or therapy. Living with epilepsy can be a struggle but there are support groups available for friends and family members to be educated and supported as they help their loved ones to live a better quality of life. 

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