Epilepsy is a disorder of brain function characterized by sudden seizures, brief attacks of inappropriate behavior, a change in one's state of consciousness, or bizarre movements. Seizures--also called fits or convulsions -- are a symptom, not a disease. Epilepsy is not contagious. Epilepsy can affect both sexes, all ages. Seizures usually begin between ages 2 and 14.
Appropriate health care includes: self-care after diagnosis; physician's monitoring of general condition and medications; surgery to remove any tumor, scar, or abscess, if one is causing convulsions in your child; psychotherapy or counseling to help you and your child learn to understand and cope with the disorder.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMSPetit mal epilepsy, which mostly affects children. The child stops activity and stares blankly for a minute or so--unaware of what is happening.
Grand mal epilepsy, which affects all ages. The person loses consciousness, stiffens, then twitches and jerks uncontrollably. The person suffering the seizure may lose bladder control. The seizure lasts several minutes and is often followed by deep sleep or mental confusion. Prior to the seizure, the person may have warning signals: a tense feeling, visual disturbances, smelling a bad odor, or hearing strange noises.
Focal epilepsy, in which a small part of the body begins twitching uncontrollably. The twitching spreads until it may involve the whole body. The person does not lose consciousness.
Temporal-lobe epilepsy, in which the person suddenly behaves out of character or inappropriately, such as becoming suddenly violent or angry, laughing for no reason, or making agitated or bizarre body movements, including odd chewing movements.
There are several forms of epilepsy (listed below), each with its own characteristics:
CAUSESBrain damage at birth.
Drug or alcohol abuse.
Severe head injury.
Brain tumor or an expanding lesion that compresses the brain (occasionally).
More than 50 brain disorders, but the organic cause can be determined in only 25% of cases. Common causes include:
Family history of seizure disorders; use of mind-altering drugs; exposure to toxic fumes; low blood sugar; excess alcohol consumption.
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCENo specific preventive measures.
MEDICAL TESTSYour own observation of symptoms; medical history and physical exam by a doctor; laboratory blood studies, EEG (See Glossary); X-rays of the child's head; CAT or CT scan (See Glossary).
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONSContinuing seizures (despite treatment), and mental deterioration (rare).
Epilepsy is incurable, except in relatively rare cases where epilepsy is caused by treatable brain damage, tumors, or infection. However, anti-convulsant drugs can prevent most seizures and allow your child to lead a near-normal life.
Your child should carry a Medic-Alert bracelet or pendant that mentions epilepsy in case the child has a seizure.
Your child should avoid any circumstance that has triggered a seizure previously, if possible.
MEDICATIONYour doctor will prescribe anti-convulsant drugs. Your child's response to the treatment will be monitored. Medication changes or adjustments are often necessary.
Learn as much as you can about your child's medication. The drugs used cause significant side effects, in addition to suppressing seizures.
See Medications section for information regarding medicines your doctor may prescribe.
No restrictions. Most states allow persons with epilepsy to drive a vehicle after being seizure-free for a year.
DIET & FLUIDS
No special diet. Urge your child not to drink alcohol. It may decrease the effectiveness of the medication and provoke seizures.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?Yes. Make every attempt to provide your child with normal childhood opportunities for growth, learning, and development.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
Your child has a seizure.
New, unexplained symptoms develop during treatment for epilepsy. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.