Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder that affects
0.5% to 1% of the population, with males and females of all races, ethnic
backgrounds, and ages being equally affected. In the United States alone, about
2.5 million people have epilepsy.
One is diagnosed with the condition once they have had two
seizures. A seizure is characterized by unusual electrical activity in the
brain. Brain cells normally communicate by sending electrical signals. During a
seizure, many brain cells signal at the same time. Symptoms vary from person to
person and can be categorized based on where they start in the brain, whether a
person’s awareness is affected, and whether the seizure involves other
Focal seizures originate in one area of the brain and can be
further classified as focal aware seizures or focal impaired awareness
seizures. During the former, one remains conscious and can recognize they are
having a seizure. They may experience motor or non-motor symptoms. Among motor
symptoms are involuntary jerking movements, and among non-motor symptoms are a
change in emotions, hallucinations, or déjà vu. During the latter, there is a change in consciousness,
and one may experience unresponsiveness or exhibit repetitive movements called automatisms.
They may blink, twitch, chew or swallow, rub their hands, or walk in circles.
Generalized seizures involve all areas of the brain and can
be classified into six types. Absence seizures involve unresponsiveness and
repetitive movements. Tonic seizures stiffen one’s back, arms, and legs, which
can result in them falling to the ground. During atonic seizures, one loses
muscle control in its entirety and can collapse. Clonic seizures are
characterized by repetitive movements of the neck, face, and arms. In myoclonic
seizures, there are sharp and detached jerks or twitches in the arms and legs. Tonic-clonic
seizures cause sudden unconsciousness and stiffening and shaking.
Brain imaging in the form of an electroencephalogram (EEG) is
used to evaluate seizures. The scan records the electrical activity of the
brain in real time. Any abnormalities detected helps to diagnose the cause or
type of seizure, be it focal or generalized.
Epilepsy is not a fatal condition, rather, those affected by
epilepsy cope with it on a day to day basis. Self-management is encouraged
among people with the condition, who can do so by taking medication
accordingly, managing stress, and sleeping well. They must take precautions to
prevent dehydration and overexertion, which can increase the probability of
having a seizure. As is with other disabilities, people with epilepsy may be
eligible to apply for benefits, and they cannot be denied employment due to
their condition. In the United States, those prone to having seizures are not
issued drivers licenses. Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
are associated with the condition, which can be treated with counseling.