What is epilepsy? | 3 min read

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes recurring seizures. A seizure is a sudden behaviour alteration due to a temporary change in the brain’s electrical functioning. Typically, the brain continuously generates tiny electrical impulses in an orderly pattern. These patterns are called episodes of involuntary movement that may involve a part of the body (partial) or the entire body (generalised).

What are the two types of seizures?

The two types of seizures are focal and generalised; they are classified based on how and where the brain activity causing the episode began. If it is not known how the seizures started, they may be classified as the unknown onset.

What are focal seizures?

Focal seizures result from electrical activity in one area of the brain. This type of seizure can occur with or without loss of consciousness:

  • Focal seizures with impaired awareness. These seizures involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness that feels like being in a dream. People with these types of seizures may seem awake but stare into space and don’t respond to their environment.
  • Focal seizures without impaired awareness. These seizures may alter emotions. People may suddenly feel angry, joyful, or sad during these seizures. These seizures may result in trouble speaking and involuntary jerking of a body part such as an arm or a leg. 

What are generalised seizures?

Seizures that appear to involve all areas of the brain from the time they start are called generalised seizures. Different types of generalised seizures include:

  • Absence seizures. Absence seizures often occur in children. Absence seizures typically cause a person to stare into space or make subtle body movements such as eye blinking or lip smacking.
  • Tonic seizures. Tonic seizures cause stiffening of the muscles. These seizures usually affect muscles in the back, arms, and legs.
  • Atonic seizures. Atonic seizures cause a loss of muscle control. People having this type of seizure may suddenly fall or drop their heads.
  • Clonic seizures. Clonic seizures are associated with repeated jerking muscle movements. These seizures usually affect the neck, face, and arms on both sides of the body.
  • Myoclonic seizures. Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden, brief jerks or twitches of the arms and legs. There is often no loss of consciousness.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures can cause a sudden loss of consciousness, body stiffening, and shaking. They sometimes cause people to lose control of their bladder or to bite their tongue.

What causes epilepsy?

The causes of epilepsy are divided into the following categories: structural, genetic, infectious, metabolic, immune, and unknown. Examples include:

  • Brain damage from prenatal or perinatal causes (a loss of oxygen or trauma during birth, low birth weight).
  • Congenital abnormalities or genetic conditions with associated brain malformations.
  • A severe head injury.
  • A stroke that restricts the amount of oxygen to the brain.
  • A brain infection such as meningitis, encephalitis, neurocysticercosis, specific genetic syndromes, and a brain tumour.

What are the symptoms of epilepsy?

Seizures can affect people differently, depending on which part of the brain is involved; symptoms include:

  • Uncontrollable jerking and shaking are called a “fit.”
  • Patients Lose awareness and stare blankly into space.
  • They become stiff.
  • They experience strange sensations, such as a “rising” feeling in the tummy, unusual smells or tastes, and tingling in their arms or legs.
  • Collapsing
When to consult a doctor?

Epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition, but most people with it can live everyday lives if their seizures are controlled. If you think you or someone you know might have epilepsy, consult an Intercare doctor who can refer you to a trusted neurologist. 


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