What is epilepsy?

Image: Thinkstock
Image: Thinkstock

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects one out of every 100 people in South Africa.

It’s a chronic seizure disorder and its most obvious symptom is unprovoked seizures – in other words, seizures that have no known cause, such as extremely low blood sugar, according to the US Epilepsy Foundation.

These seizures are often described as “electrical storms in the brain” and can affect anyone. The seizures can vary in type and intensity – from serious convulsions and a loss of consciousness, to brief periods of “blanking out”, or just behaving in a different and unusual way. Seizures can also sometimes be a symptom of an underlying condition.

A neurologist will be able to determine what type of seizures someone experiences by obtaining a description of the seizure from the person or family member who witnessed it, or by doing an electroencephalogram (EEG) to record the activity of the brain. Scans and blood tests can also help to determine the cause of seizures.

While seizures themselves aren’t usually dangerous, the risks and potential dangerous consequences to consider include, for instance, getting a seizure while swimming or driving.

Anyone can get epilepsy. Some people are born with it, and others develop it after an illness or a head injury. Common seizure triggers include alcohol, drugs, certain medications, sleep deprivation, pregnancy and the skipping of medication doses.

A large variety of medication is available for the treatment of epilepsy. The type of medication a neurologist prescribes will depend on the type of epilepsy you have, how well it seems to be working and how well you tolerate particular side effects.

(Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general background information and not to substitute any medical diagnosis or advice received from a qualified healthcare professional.)

- Epilepsy SA, Fact sheet. [Online] Available at: http://epilepsy.org.za/new/epilepsy-facts-sheet/. Accessed: 29 July 2015
- Sirven, Jospeh I. MD and Shafer, Patricia O. MD. What is Epilepsy? Epilepsy Foundation (US) January 2014. [Online] Available at: http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/epilepsy-101/what-epilepsy. Accessed: 29 July 2015
- Rose-Innes, Andrew MD. Epilepsy. Health24.com. July 2004 [Online] Available at: http://www.health24.com/Medical/Epilepsy/Overview/What-is-epilepsy-20120721. Accessed: 29 July 2015

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