Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder which involves intermittent episodes of unconsciousness and seizures due to disturbed electrical activity in the brain. It is a chronic condition.
The symptoms may vary in individuals. Some may stare continuously while others may take to fumbling with their clothes. Commonly, epileptic seizures involve convulsions which are sudden, uncontrollable movements. Mild seizures may be difficult to identify as they don’t last long, while the stronger ones involve uncontrollable spasms and twitches and last longer. Very often the patients have no clue about what happened as they either become confused or lose consciousness for a period of time. Common triggers of epilepsy include sleeplessness, stress, fever, bright light, caffeine, alcohol or drugs.
Epileptic Seizures are broadly divided into Generalized Seizures and Partial seizures, depending upon the kind of brain activity and the type of behaviour of an individual.
Generalized seizures are caused by electrical impulses from the entire brain while the Partial seizures are caused by impulses from small, localized part of the brain called focus.
There are six types of generalized seizures –
1) Grand Mal seizures: In this type, the patient collapses after losing consciousness. The body becomes stiff for about 30-60 seconds and this is followed by violent jerks for about 30-60 seconds. After this the patient goes into a deep sleep. When these seizures occur it’s common for the patient to bite tongue or to experience urinary incontinence.
2) Absence seizures: These occur when the patient loses consciousness for a few seconds. Typically the patients stop an activity and stare blankly for a while. This usually ends abruptly but can recur several times during a day.
3) Myoclonic seizures: They occur as sporadic jerks which the patient experiences as brief electrical shocks. During these seizures the patient might drop or throw objects randomly.
4) Clonic seizures – Repetitive jerks which occur rhythmically, affecting both sides of the body simultaneously, are the symptoms of this category of seizures
5) Tonic seizures – Here the patient experiences stiffening of muscles
6) Atonic seizures – In this case the patient experiences the total absence of tonicity in the muscles of the arms and the legs, causing the patient to fall
Partial Seizures can be categorized into Simple seizures, Complex seizures and those that later on evolve secondarily into generalized seizures.
In patients with complex partial seizures there is a loss of awareness during the seizure episode, while it doesn’t occur in those who experience simple partial seizures.
Simple partial seizures are of the following types –
a) Motor – In patients with these types of seizures stiffening and jerking movements are observed
b) Autonomic – In patients with these types of seizures the autonomic nervous system, which controls organs like the heart, brain, intestines and bladder, is involved.
c) Sensory – In this group, seizures result in unusual sensations affecting the five senses. Sometimes, during seizure episodes, only vague sensations are experienced by the patient. These are called ‘auras’
d) Psychological –In this group of patients seizures involve memory, emotions and other psychological experiences
Complex partial seizures involve loss of awareness. It may also involve symptoms commonly referred to as automatisms, which are involuntary, repetitive and purposeless movements like fidgeting with something or smacking lips.
The third type of partial seizures is the secondarily complex type, where the simple type of partial seizures evolves into complex types.
Epilepsy cannot be completely cured but they can be treated with anti-epileptic medications and dietary modifications.