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What is Epilepsy?

graphic of a head with brain and visual of epilepsy on the brain

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where the nerve cells in your brain are disturbed, causing seizures which can vary from unnoticeable to convulsing fits. A seizure occurs when brain cells that control body functions generate abnormal or excessive electrical discharges.

Doctors generally classify seizures as either focal or generalized, based on how the abnormal brain activity begins. When seizures result from abnormal activity in just one area of the brain, they are called focal or partial seizures. Seizures that involve all areas of the brain are called generalized seizures.

Main types of seizures:

  • Focal or partial seizures
  • Complex focal seizures
  • Generalized seizures

Focal or partial seizures originate in one part of the brain. Simple focal seizures do not cause loss of consciousness, but may affect sensory perceptions and result in involuntary jerking of part of the body.

Complex focal seizures change consciousness or awareness, and may result in non-purposeful movements, such as walking in circles or staring.

Generalized seizures appear to involve the whole brain.

What are the Risk Factors for Epilepsy?

Risk factors can make a person more likely to have seizures and epilepsy. Some risk factors can include:

  • Babies who are born small for their age.
  • Babies who have seizures in the first month of life.
  • Bleeding into the brain.
  • Abnormal blood vessels in the brain.
  • Serious injury or lack of oxygen to the brain.

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Diagnosing epilepsy may include brain imaging, blood work and electroencephalogram (EEG). EEGs are conducted by putting electrodes on the patient’s scalp to record brain wave activity. Other imaging tests that may be used are CT or MRI scans that help our team determine if there are any lesions in the brain that may be causing the seizures.

Interesting Epilepsy Facts

  • Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder and can affect people of all ages.
  • 65 million people around the world have epilepsy.
  • 3 million people in the United States have epilepsy.
  • 1 in 26 people in the United States will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime.
  • A third of people with epilepsy live with uncontrollable seizures because no available treatment works for them.
  • There are around 150,000 new cases of epilepsy in the United States each year.