General Information

What are the different categories of seizures?


Epilepsy can cause many different kinds of seizures, too many to place into specific categories. However, epileptic seizures fit into three general categories: generalized, focal, and unknown.




What are the differences between the different kinds of seizures?


The first difference in seizures is between a generalized onset seizure or a focal seizure. The brain of someone who is suffering from generalized onset seizures is affected on both sides of the hemisphere. However, focal seizures begin in one area. If the doctor cannot determine where a person’s epilepsy originates in their brain, then the epilepsy is considered an unknown onset. The next difference is between either impaired awareness seizures or aware seizures. A person who is conscious of their surroundings during their seizures has awareness seizures. A person who is not cognizant has impaired awareness seizures.




What are the symptoms of a seizure?


For every type of seizure, you may have different symptoms. Listed below are a few possible symptoms. Generalized Motor: limp or rigid muscles, twitching muscles or epileptic spasms, sustained movements that are jerky and rhythmic Nonmotor: staring spells, a brief twitch of one part of the body, such as the eyelids Focal Motor: jerking, limp or rigid muscles, muscle twitching or epileptic spasms, repetition of repeated movements that seem automatic Nonmotor: a change in sensation or emotion. You could also experience changes in your thinking or cognition, automatic functions, or you could stop moving.




What are the causes of childhood epilepsy?


Pinpointing the cause of epilepsy is difficult at any age. In seven out of every ten cases, there is no known cause. These children are then said to have idiopathic epilepsy. “Idiopathic” is a Latin word meaning “of unknown cause.” There are many possible causes of epilepsy in children, including: problems with brain development before birth; lack of oxygen during or following birth; a head injury that leaves a scar in the brain; unusual structures in the brain; tumors; a prolonged seizure with fever, or the after-effects of severe brain infections such as meningitis or encephalitis. When a cause can be identified, children will be described as having symptomatic epilepsy. The seizures are thought to be a symptom of the underlying brain injury.





Diagnosis

How do you get diagnosed with epilepsy?


The diagnosis of epilepsy is a multistage process. The doctor will look at your history and your symptoms. Then, most likely, the doctor will perform additional tests to see how your specific epilepsy is functioning. These tests could be neurological exams or blood tests. The doctor may also suggest either an MRI or CT to see how your brain is operating. Finally, your doctor could ask you to submit to an analysis technique so that the doctor can pinpoint the starting place of the seizures, such as a Curry analysis or Statistical Parameter Mapping.




What kind of doctor should I see?


You may begin with your primary care doctor first. However, most likely, you will need to consult a neurologist or someone who works with neurological disorders. If diagnosing your epilepsy is extremely difficult, you should consult a doctor whose specialty is epilepsy, an epileptologist. There are many places that one could find an epileptologist: private practices, teaching hospitals, specialized epilepsy centers. You can see the link for additional resources for finding the right doctor. See our list of local neurologists here.





Antiepileptic Drugs

What are antiepileptic drugs?


They are anticonvulsant drugs which means people take them preventatively to keep seizures from occurring.




How do antiepileptic meds work?


You take antiepileptic drugs orally. The capsules break down in your gut and then pass through your stomach lining into the bloodstream, migrating to the brain. Once they have served their purpose, they break down and leave your body. The liver is where most AEDs metabolize with the help of different enzymes.




How do they stop seizures?


They reduce the electrical activity of the neurons. There are several different ways they do this. They may affect neurotransmitters that send messages to and from the neurons. They may attach themselves to the neurons and affect how ions get in and out of the neuron. For more information check out the eplipsy society's description.





Side Effects

What are some possible side effects from your antiepileptic medications?


In the first couple of weeks, you may feel tired, have an upset stomach, be dizzy, or have blurred vision. One possible way to avoid side effects is to start at a lower dose and slowly increase. However, side effects will most likely go away after several weeks or months. But, remember that many people do not have side effects. Talk to your doctor about the specific side effects your medicine might cause because every medication has a different side effect.




Can you get an allergic reaction from your antiepileptic medications?


They do happen, but allergic reactions to seizure medicines are uncommon and usually occur in the first six months. The most common symptom is a rash.




Are there any other side effects that can occur?


Yes, there are side effects that are not related to the dosage, called idiosyncratic side effects. Some of them are listed below: Rash Liver or pancreas problem A severe drop in your white blood cells A significant reduction in your platelets




How likely am I to develop a severe side effect?


Not likely. Overtly life-threatening side effects are rare. In some cases, you may need to monitor your blood. When you consider whether or not you need blood monitoring with your doctor, you want to evaluate your risk factors and the medicine you are taking.





Photosensitivity

How likely am I to have a seizure caused by lights?


Not very likely. Only 3% of people with epilepsy have seizures caused by lights.




Are there any groups more likely to develop photosensitivity?


This kind of epilepsy is more common in children and adolescents. It is also more common with generalized epilepsy and some specific syndromes of epilepsy like juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. It seems to decrease with age.





Stigmas

How do the stigmas around epilpsy affect people with epilpsy?


Even though epilepsy is actually the fourth most common brain disorder, it is often misunderstood. Many people have never heard of epilepsy, and even many who have don’t actually know much about it. Because of this lack of education, there are many harmful stigmas commonly attached to epilepsy. It’s important to know that in communities where epilepsy education is lacking, epilepsy is more likely to go undiagnosed, cause more extreme and dangerous seizure activity (due to lack of treatment), and to be met with less hospitality and compassion. For this reason, the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeast Tennessee offers free epilepsy and seizure first aid education to anyone in the community who is interested. For more information, click here.





Childhood epilepsy

What are Febrile (fever-caused) seizures?


Febrile (fever-caused) seizures affect many children between the ages of 3 months and 6 years. Febrile seizures are not the same as epilepsy, although in rare cases they may be the first seizures experienced by a child who develops epilepsy later on. Febrile seizures occur when a child’s temperature rises rapidly, usually to 102 degrees or higher. There is often a family history of febrile seizures; they are most common around 18 months of age and affect between 3 and 4 percent of all children. Thirty to 40 percent of children who have a febrile seizure will have another one, but most children grow out of the tendency as they grow older. About 3 percent of children with febrile seizures go on to develop epilepsy. In children with epilepsy, fever (as well as some drugs, medications and sleep deprivation) may trigger seizures. Having a seizure is a sign of an underlying condition in the brain. In many cases it is the only sign of a brain disorder. In other cases it may be just one of many symptoms. Common brain conditions that may also be associated with seizures include tuberous sclerosis, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and neurofibromatosis. Epilepsy associated with other brain disorders is usually treated in the same way as epilepsy from an unknown cause.




What are the causes of childhood epilepsy?


Pinpointing the cause of epilepsy is difficult at any age. In seven out of every ten cases, there is no known cause. These children are then said to have idiopathic epilepsy. “Idiopathic” is a Latin word meaning “of unknown cause.” There are many possible causes of epilepsy in children, including: problems with brain development before birth; lack of oxygen during or following birth; a head injury that leaves a scar in the brain; unusual structures in the brain; tumors; a prolonged seizure with fever, or the after-effects of severe brain infections such as meningitis or encephalitis. When a cause can be identified, children will be described as having symptomatic epilepsy. The seizures are thought to be a symptom of the underlying brain injury.