Diana Apetauerova, MD, is board-certified in neurology with a subspecialty in movement disorders. She is an associate clinical professor of neurology at Tufts University.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition caused by electrical disturbances in the brain. The condition results in seizures, which can cause unusual behavior, movements, or experiences, and sometimes a lack of awareness or loss of consciousness.
Epilepsy is diagnosed when you've had two or more seizures and there's no medical condition behind them, such as alcohol withdrawal or low blood sugar.
While the exact cause of epilepsy is unknown in about half of the cases, it sometimes runs in families or can result from different conditions such as strokes, infections, and traumatic brain injury. Treatment options include anti-seizure medications and, in some cases, surgery.
Epilepsy is a complex disorder and can be caused by anything that alters the brain’s electrical activity. Epilepsy can be linked to specific factors, including genetics, a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, or a brain infection.
A variety of tests are used to help diagnose epilepsy, including a neurological exam and an electroencephalogram (EEG). Other tests may include blood work and imaging studies of the brain, such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and a positron emission tomography (PET).
Many forms of epilepsy have a genetic component. Though genes don't necessarily cause epilepsy, they may make someone predisposed to it. For example, if you have the genes linked with epilepsy, you may be more likely to develop it if you experience a traumatic brain injury.
The Social Security Administration lists epilepsy as one of the conditions which may qualify you for disability benefits if you meet their specific requirements. The rules regarding epilepsy are very technical, with separate requirements for convulsive and non-convulsive forms of the condition.
A non-invasive test that picks up abnormal brain waves and records the electrical activity of the brain via electrodes attached to the scalp. EEGs are usually done to detect seizures and to diagnose epilepsy.
A type of seizure that affects both sides of the brain at once. Generalized seizures can include tonic-clonic, absence, and atonic seizures, each of which may have different causes and symptoms.
Any one of a number of diseases that affect the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and muscles. Neurological conditions include stroke, seizure disorders such as epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, among others.
A transient event caused by a temporary disruption in the brain’s electrical system. There are different types of seizures, which can be brought on by several conditions. including fever, head trauma, and stroke.
A condition in which a seizure lasts longer than five minutes or when seizures occur close together without a recovery period between them. Status epilepticus can be convulsive and non-convulsive; both requiring emergency treatment.
A type of seizure, sometimes called a “grand mal” seizure, that causes uncontrolled jerking and stiffness of the arms, legs, or body, and loss of consciousness or awareness. These seizures generally last from several seconds to a couple of minutes.
Epilepsy Foundation. About epilepsy: The basics. Updated March 19, 2014.
Epilepsy Foundation. How to qualify for Social Security Benefits with epilepsy.
Epilepsy Foundation. Status Epilepticus.
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