Epilepsy

Definition

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder. It is the second most widespread condition of this type in France after Alzheimer's disease and the most prevalent illness in this category in Europe. It causes unpredictable and sudden seizures that are often very different in nature. During a seizure, the brain ceases to function properly for short, temporary periods caused by abrupt and excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells (neurons) either in one area of the brain or the entire brain.

It is important to draw a distinction between epilepsy and isolated seizures. The term 'epilepsy' is only used if seizures are recurrent. Isolated convulsive seizures can be ascribed to several causes including head injuries, strokes, meningitis, and drug overdoses.

Most people still exhibit very poor awareness of this disease. Patients are therefore afraid not only of having seizures but also of what others may think of them. Therefore, in addition to the physical disease, sufferers are afflicted by a sort of social disease.

Key figures

There are 600,000 epilepsy sufferers in France. This is 0.5-0.8% of the population. Isolated seizures are more common and affect approximately 5% of the population. The disorder causes 3,000 deaths every year in France.

It can emerge at any age but is most common among children/teenagers and older people aged over 65. In 75% of cases, the illness is detected before the age of 18 and 50% of children are cured before they turn 18.

Causes, risk factors, and at-risk individuals

Anyone can suffer a seizure during their lifetime. In over half of all cases, physicians are unable to establish the cause of seizures. It is thought that in 10-15% of cases, the disease is inherited.

Factors increasing the likelihood of seizures include:

  • Failure to take prescribed medication as instructed
  • Emotion, stress
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Drug-taking
  • Lack of sleep
  • Brain disease or brain damage
  • In rarer cases, strokes can cause the disease through scar formation, which alters neuronal activity

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary significantly depending on the location of the electric discharge. Generally speaking, there are two types of seizure:

Partial seizures (normally lasting a few minutes)

In these instances, the discharge only affects part of the brain with the following possible symptoms:

  • Speech disorders
  • Motor dysfunction, sensory disturbances, or disorders of sensibility
  • Memory deficit
  • Altered states of consciousness in which patients are not aware of what they are doing or saying

Generalized seizures that include:

Tonic-clonic seizures (lasting less than two minutes)

This is the most well-known but not most common type of seizure. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Falls
  • Convulsive movements
  • Tongue biting

Blackouts

These are associated with brief lapses in attention, immobility, and blank staring. They often occur in children and teenagers who are unaware of what is happening.

Potential consequences range from physical injury to death in some instances.

What should you do if you witness an epileptic seizure?

If you see someone suffering from an epileptic seizure, lay them down on their side in the recovery position and protect their head. Do not place any objects in their mouth and do not try to hold them. It is important to treat prolonged seizures in particular, since the affected areas of brain are starved of oxygen for a certain length of time. Individuals who have suffered seizures must therefore always see a doctor.

Treatment

Epileptic seizures cannot be prevented. However, it is possible to lead a normal life if you adopt a healthy lifestyle, ensuring you sleep sufficiently, avoid stress, and refrain from excessive drinking.

An appropriate treatment can also prevent seizures for 70-80% of patients. Anti-epileptic drugs are available that are capable of reducing the risk of seizures or fully controlling them. However, it is first important to determine what form of epilepsy you have, as some medicines can exacerbate certain symptoms. Moreover, since there is no single effective medicine, case-by-case treatment decisions are made based on symptoms, age, sex, etc. Whatever the circumstances, observance is essential for ensuring that seizures are properly controlled.

Children sometimes grow out of epilepsy. In adults, surgery may provide a solution for a permanent cure but is still very rare at present. This method is appropriate for patients who suffer from partial, drug-resistant epilepsy (where anti-epileptic drugs have failed), in which case the area of the brain causing the epilepsy can be removed in an operation.

Sources: http://www.fondation-epilepsie.fr/comprendre-epilepsie/quest-ce-que-cest/, http://www.passeportsante.net/fr/Maux/Problemes/Fiche.aspx?doc=epilepsie_pm, http://www.ameli-sante.fr/epilepsie/epilepsie-definition-causes-et-facteurs-favorisants.html