An epileptic seizure (fit) involves the temporary occurrence of clinical features as a result of neurons (brain cells) creating abnormal and excessive electricity in the brain. A seizure can manifest in many different ways ranging from a simple momentary disruption of senses, moments of unresponsiveness or simple staring into space to full blown muscle jerking with eye rolling, tongue biting and incontinence.
What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy can result from any condition that disrupts the normal electrical activity of the brain. Strokes, brain infections such as meningitis, brain tumours, and head injuries are all possible causes of recurrent seizures. However, a cause for epilepsy is not always found. For these patients the cause for their epilepsy is considered to be an inherent susceptibility to generate an abnormal electrical activity in the brain cells.
What should I do if a seizure is witnessed?
• Loosen any clothes found around the person's neck.
• Do NOT try to hold the person down or put any objects into the person's mouth.
• Clear the area around the person and remove any danger if this is present.
• If possible put the person on his side to ensure an open airway and to stop the inhalation of any secretions. Keep the person in this position until the patients recovers or until help arrives.
• Stay with the person during and after the seizure. He/she will probably be unresponsive and confused during and after the seizure.
• Call 112 if someone suffers a first seizure, if a seizure is prolonged, if the individual fails to recover consciousness, if multiple seizures occur in close succession and if the individual does not recover consciousness in between episodes. If the person is known to suffer from epilepsy or from any other medical condition such as diabetes, advice him/her to inform his GP immediately.
Can epilepsy be cured?
Unfortunately there is no cure for epilepsy but the condition can be treated. Various medications (anti-epileptic drugs) are available which can prevent and control the occurrence of seizures.
- Epileptic patients should not drink alcohol excessively and should avoid sleep deprivation.
- Epileptic patients should take showers rather than baths and avoid dangerous situations such as heights.
- After a generalised seizure, a person cannot to drive for one year.
- Females suffering from epilepsy thinking about getting pregnant should consult their caring neurologist first.
- Epilepsy is not contagious, and is not a mental illness. Between attacks patients usually function normally and if epilepsy is controlled patients can lead a very normal life!
Written By Tara Giacchino
4th Year Medical Student
Reviewed by Dr Malcom Vella
Resident Specialist Neurology at Mater Dei Hospital
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by a continuing predisposition to generate epileptic seizures; it may be diagnosed after at least two unprovoked seizures (not caused by a known medical condition such as very low blood sugar) occurring more than 24 hours apart or after one unprovoked seizure if a person has a condition that places him/her at risk of having further seizures.