About Epilepsy

It is estimated that over 40 million people in the world may suffer from epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes abnormal electrical activity in the brain resulting in recurrent seizures. The condition affects children, adults, and seniors and can be genetically present from birth or caused by a head injury, brain tumors, or infectious diseases. In many cases, the cause is unknown.

Today, effective treatments developed by institutions such as the Emory Epilepsy Center that include things like medication, nerve stimulation, and epilepsy surgery, have resulted in the control of seizures for up to 80 percent of all of those diagnosed with the disease.

What are seizures?

Seizures are sudden events of altered brain function, which usually are brief but often occur repeatedly. Abnormal brain functions that can occur during seizures include:

  • Complete or partial loss of consciousness
  • Involuntary jerks, tremors, or other simple movements
  • More complex, but involuntary movements, such as turning in circles
  • Confusion or nonsensical speech
  • Unusual sensations in the head or body
  • Loss of ability to speak or understand speech
  • Memory loss

Types of seizures

Seizures come in a wide variety of forms. Most people with epilepsy have more than one type of seizure over the course of their illness. Accurate diagnosis is necessary in order to achieve the best treatment.

  • Epileptic seizures are caused by rhythmic electrical discharges of brain cells. When only a small area of the cortex (higher part of the human brain) is involved in the beginning of the seizures, it is termed "partial onset." When the entire cortex is involved in the beginning of the seizures, it is termed "generalized onset."
  • Generalized tonic-clonic seizures ("generalized convulsions" or "grand mal" seizures) can start either as partial or as generalized onset, but in either case involve complete loss of consciousness and jerking movements of the entire body.
  • Partial-onset or generalized-onset seizures can take on many other forms in addition to generalized tonic-clonic seizures, including simple staring spells with brief loss of consciousness but no abnormal movements, seizures with complex body movements, and various other types.

Non-epileptic seizures can be caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, sleep disorders, psychological disturbances, and various other brain disturbances. Non-epileptic seizures are not caused by epileptic, electrical discharges of brain cells. For many patients epileptic seizures and non-epileptic seizures cause the same types of feelings, movements, and other behaviors, but EEG recordings can distinguish epileptic from non-epileptic seizures. Such EEG recordings usually are performed in an epilepsy monitoring unit with continuous digital video recording.

Many patients have a combination of epileptic seizures and non-epileptic seizures. Video-EEG monitoring can be used to show which seizures should be treated with epilepsy medications and which seizures are non-epileptic and require a different form of treatment. A high degree of expertise is necessary to interpret Video-EEG recordings correctly the expertise of advanced training and years of experience such as that represented in the faculty of the Emory Epilepsy Center.