Epilepsy is a brain disorder or neurological condition in which clusters of nerve cells in the brain sometimes signal abnormally, and make people susceptible to seizures. A seizure is a change in sensation, awareness, or behavior brought about by a brief electrical disturbance in the brain. Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. EEGs and brain scans are common diagnostic tests for epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes - from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development - that can lead to seizures. It can be caused by anything that affects the brain, including tumors and strokes. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of a nerve signaling, chemical, or some combination of these factors.
Seizures can look different, but all are caused by the same thing: a sudden change in how the cells of the brain send electrical signals to each other. If you have epilepsy, you know that it is not a mental disorder. Epilepsy is generally not the kind of condition that gets worse with time.
Once diagnosed it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. For about 80 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with modern medicines and surgical techniques. Although seizure medications are not a cure, they control seizures in the majority of people with epilepsy. Surgery, diet (primarily in children) or electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve may be options if medications fail to control seizures. If medications are used (called antiepileptic or anticonvulsant drugs), you may need blood tests from time to time. The goal of treatment is to stop seizures without side effects occuring from the medicines.
This information is not meant to replace medical care; anyone who has had a seizure or has epilepsy should be evaluated by a medical doctor.
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