FAQs About Epilepsy
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a medical condition that causes a person to have recurring seizures. These seizures are caused by excessive discharges of electrical impulses in the brain.
There are over 40 different types of seizures that affect conciousness, movement, sensation, and behaviours. Seizure symptoms depend on where in the brain the abnormal electrical activity occurs and how much of the brain is being affected.
There are two main categories of seizures: generalized and focal.
Generalized means that the seizure occurs all over the brain and focal means that the seizure occurs in one specific area of the brain.
Seizures can be convulsive or non-convulsive. A generalized seizure, such as a tonic-clonic seizure can cause a complete loss of consciousness and shaking of the entire body while a focal seizure, such as a focal impaired awareness seizure may involve the person being in a trance-like state, experiencing altered sensations, having uncontrolled movements, or being unable to speak.
Seizures can vary in frequency and severity. In some people with epilepsy, seizures happen only occasionally; for others, it may happen up to hundreds of times a day.
How many people have epilepsy?
Epilepsy is far more common that most people realize. It is more common than Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Stomach Cancer, and Down’s Syndrome. There are over 50,000 people living with epilepsy in BC; over 380,000 people living with epilepsy in Canada; and over 65 million people living with epilepsy worldwide. Epilepsy affects approximately 1% of the population.
Anyone of any age, stage of life, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, geographic location or sexual orientation can develop epilepsy. According to the World Health Organization, “epilepsy is the most common serious brain disorder worldwide with no age, racial, social class, national, nor geographic boundaries.”
What should you do when someone is having a seizure?
1 in 12 people will have at least one seizure in their lifetime. Knowing proper seizure first aid will greatly help someone having a seizure. It may even save their life. Here are things you can do:
1. Stay calm
2. Protect the person from injury
– cushion their head
– move objects out of their way
– loosen anything tight around their neck
– remove their glasses
3. As soon as possible, gently turn the person onto their side
4. Stay with the individual until consciousness is fully regained
5. Be reassuring and comforting afterwards
Never put anything in a person’s mouth during a seizure. Doing so may break their teeth or block their airway. A person cannot swallow their tongue during a seizure.
Do not restrain or hold the person down during a seizure.
An ambulance should be called if a seizure lasts for more than five minutes, for repeated seizures, for a first time seizure – no known history, or if a person is injured, pregnant, or has diabetes.
Many seizure types such as absence seizures or focal aware seizures or focal impaired awareness seizures involve relatively brief episodes of unresponsiveness. In these instances stay with the person, move objects out of their way, guide them away from danger, and repeat any information they may have missed. After the seizure, talk gently to comfort and reassure the person.
What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal activities of the nerve cells in the brain (the neurons) can lead to seizures.
However about 70% of cases of epilepsy have no known cause. Only about 30% of cases of epilepsy can be linked to a known cause.
Known causes include:
- Brain injury
- Infections that damage the brain (such as meningitis or encephalitis)
- Brain tumors
- Abnormalities in the brain development
Potential causes are thought to include:
- Genetic disorders
- Neurotransmitter imbalances
- Gene mutations
- Cell membrane abnormalities
There is no cure for epilepsy. Treatments such as medications can control seizures in many people, but about one third of people with epilepsy will still have seizures. This highlights the need for more epilepsy research for effective treatments and a cure.