Epilepsy is a neurological condition involving the brain that makes people susceptible to unpredictable, recurring unprovoked seizures. It is one of the most common disorders of the nervous system and affects people of all ages, races and ethnic background. Almost 3 million Americans live with epilepsy.
A seizure occurs when part(s) of the brain receive a burst of abnormal electrical signals that temporarily interrupts normal electrical brain function. Anything that interrupts the normal connections between nerve cells in the brain can cause a seizure. This includes a high fever, low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or a brain concussion. Under these circumstances, anyone can have one or more seizures. However, when a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, he or she is considered to have epilepsy.
There are many possible causes of epilepsy, including an imbalance of nerve-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, tumors, strokes and brain damage from illness or injury, or some combination of these. In the majority of cases, there may be no detectable cause for epilepsy.
A person with epilepsy may experience different symptoms depending upon the type of seizure. The following are general symptoms of a seizure or warning signs of seizures. Symptoms or warning signs may include:
- Jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Stiffening of the body
- Loss of consciousness
- Breathing problems or breathing stops
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Falling suddenly for no apparent reason, especially when associated with loss of consciousness
- Not responding to noise or words for brief periods
- Appearing confused or in a haze
- Nodding the head rhythmically when associated with loss of awareness or even loss of consciousness
- Periods of rapid eye blinking and staring
During the seizure, the person's lips may become bluish and breathing may not be normal. The movements are often followed by a period of sleep or disorientation. The symptoms of a seizure may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.