Epilepsy & other seizures
Epilepsy is recurring brief episodes
of abnormal electrical activity in the brain leading to
uncontrolled convulsions and unconsciousness, or just a momentary
loss of awareness.
Epilepsy is a chronic condition produced by temporary
changes in the electrical function of the brain, causing seizures
which affect awareness, movement, or sensation. Its effects can be
very similar to general seizures, but these usually occur due to
causes other than abnormal electrical activity in the brain (e.g.
stress, drugs, fever, low blood sugar or sodium).
Seizures can vary from a brief lapse of awareness to
unconsciousness and jerking convulsions of the body. The majority
of recurring seizures can be prevented by medications.
Diagnosis of epilepsy
One seizure alone is not enough for a diagnosis of
epilepsy - it may be a once-off occurrence. In primary
epilepsy, there is no discoverable abnormality in the brain and
therefore no known cause. In secondary epilepsy the seizures are
caused by an abnormality in brain tissue which can be found by a CT
or MRI scan. A brain injury can lead to secondary epilepsy.
Links between epilepsy & brain
Epilepsy has a close relationship with traumatic brain injury
and other brain disorders. It can cause neural damage by itself,
and epilepsy is a risk factor for a traumatic brain injury (TBI)
through a fall or violent convulsion. Epilepsy can also result from
acquiring a brain injury.
Epilepsy caused by a brain injury does not usually start
with a severe seizure. It may begin with absence seizures
categorized by memory loss, attention problems or other subtle
symptoms that may not be recognized as a seizure.
management of epilepsy
The most common techniques for managing epilepsy include:
- Take medication on time
- Avoid alcohol, coffee and other stimulants
- Sleep well and minimize stress
- Avoid conditions that trigger seizures
- Wear a Medic-Alert bracelet
- Ensure friends and family know all about epilepsy and managing
There is frequently an "aura" before a seizure, which can
include sensory hallucinations, dizziness or light-headedness,
feelings of panic or déjà vu. On the other hand, there may be no
warning at all. Recognizing and acting upon pre-seizure sensations
can be an important technique for preventing serious physical
In some cases there are triggers that may increase the chances
of a seizure, including alcohol, caffeine, missing meals,
infections, lack of sleep, flickering lights and missing
There is no cure for epilepsy, but seizures are
controllable with medication in the majority of cases.
Different medications may be tried until the most effective
treatment is found. Families and partners can play an important
role by ensuring medication is taken when needed and obtaining
first aid certificates to know how to provide first aid if a fit
In a small number of cases, people may benefit from a
ketogenic diet - food that is high in fats and oils and low in
carbohydrates to stress the body into burning fat for energy. It is
only used under strict medical supervision and when drugs are
In severe cases that don't respond to medication,
surgery might be used. It does not guarantee any benefit and there
is the risk of brain injury.
See a doctor immediately or call an ambulance. A seizure may
indicate a serious medical condition. If the seizure is severe,
calling for an ambulance is the very first priority. If you are
alone and have a severe seizure, it may take time to recover but
call an ambulance when possible.
Don't attempt to restrain the person during a fit. If possible,
roll them into the recovery position and ensure the airway is clear
e.g. no vomit in the mouth. Make sure there are no objects like
chairs or tables nearby that they could hurt themselves against
Ensure they are still breathing and time the duration of the
fits as the ambulance officers will want this information when they
When the fit has passed, the person will normally be quite
groggy and tired when consciousness returns. Make sure they rest
until they have recovered enough to get up.
References and further information