DNA Health Guide: What is Epilepsy? Know symptoms, causes, triggers

In India, November 17 is observed every year as National Epilepsy Day to spread awareness among the population about the disorder.

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DNA Health Guide: What is Epilepsy? Know symptoms, causes, triggers
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Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain resulting in recurrent seizures or fits. Seizures are brought about due to the sudden, excessive electrical discharges in the neurons or brain cell. Epilepsy can affect people of any age group and each age group has its own challenges. 

This brain disorder affects a rather large population worldwide and entails a major burden in seizure-related disability, mortality, comorbidities, stigma, and costs. 

In India, November 17 is observed every year as National Epilepsy Day to spread awareness among the population about the disorder, to apprise them of its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options. 

So, in order to know more about the brain disorder, its triggers and to curate a list of do's and don'ts for persons with epilepsy patients, we at DNA spoke to Dr Khushbu Goel, Consultant - Neurology, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals, Dwarka, Delhi. She helped us list a few important things about epilepsy which are as follows:

What is a Seizure / Convulsion?

A seizure is a clinical manifestation of synchronized electrical discharges of neurons. 

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is described when 2 or more unprovoked seizures occur at an interval greater than 24 hours apart. There are many different types of seizure. They are classified by the area in the brain where the epileptic activity originates.

Seizures can affect any process of your brain coordinates because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain. 

Signs and symptoms may include:

- Temporary confusion
- A staring spell
- Arms and legs have uncontrollable jerking movements 
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Fear, anxiety or déjà vu
- Unusual sensations or feelings
- Chewing movements, lip-smacking
- Automatic hand or leg movements 

Seizure episode can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Patients may feel confused or disoriented for a while after a seizure which is called postictal (after seizure) confusion and it may be hard for them to tell when the seizure has ended. 

Causes of Seizures 

In 70 – 80 % of cases, the cause of a seizure is idiopathic. For remaining, it can be a cerebral tumour, neurodegenerative disorders, neurocutaneous syndromes, secondary to cerebral damage: e.g. congenital infections, HIE, intraventricular haemorrhage, cerebral dysgenesis/malformation: e.g. hydrocephalus.

In some cases, causes can be non-epileptic, for e.g. febrile convulsions, metabolic hypoglycaemia, hypocalcemia, hypomagnesemia, hypernatremia, hyponatremia, head trauma, meningitis, encephalitis, poisons / toxins.

Triggers of epilepsy

- Lack of sleep 

- Stress

- Missing a dose of epilepsy medicine 

- Alcohol

- Missing meals

- Flashing or flickering lights – this is called photosensitive epilepsy

- Seizure mimickers 

- Syncope attacks 

- Cardiac arrhythmias 

- Migraine 

- Hypoglycemia 

- Narcolepsy  

- Panic attacks 

- Pseudoseizures – psychosomatic and personality disorders

A few do's:
- Note the time

- Protect them from injury

- Cushion their head

- Be calm and reassure them continuously 

- Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the seizure has terminated attempt

- Until complete recovery, stay with the person

- Call for an ambulance if the seizure doesn’t stop after five minutes

A few don’ts:

- Try to stop the person’s movements

- Try to move them unless they are in danger 

- Put anything in the person’s mouth 

- Give them food or drink until they are fully recovered 

- Try to bring them round. Everyone does not fall to the ground and shakes. Stay with them until they recover and keep them safe

Mostly epilepsy is treatable with medications. The important thing is not to delay the treatment and start the treatment as soon as it is diagnosed. Timely treatment prevents further deterioration of the condition.

Tips for patients

-Take regular medications as advised by the doctor, even in absence of seizures.

- Do not stop your medications without your doctor’s advice.

- While taking any other medications, consult your doctor to avoid possible side effects or any complications

- Alcohol provokes seizures, so do not drink alcohol.



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