Epilepsy, sometimes called a seizure disorder, refers to a
disorder which causes recurring seizures.
People with epilepsy experience recurrent seizures which are not
attributed to any other cause such as low blood sugar, high
fever, or concussion. A single seizure, or a few episodes of
seizures with a high fever that do not occur when the fever
abates is not epilepsy so not everyone who has seizures has
What is a seizure?
A seizure is a temporary loss of consciousness caused by nerve
cells in the brain which signal abnormally or
excessively. The nerve cells in the brain — known as neurons
— create electrical impulses which cause muscles to move,
thoughts, actions, and control the body. So, during a seizure the
excessive activity of the neurons can cause abnormal movements,
loss of consciousness, or behavioral changes depending on what
part of the brain is experiencing the seizure.
The major types of seizures include grand mal seizures, focal
(frontal, parietal, or occipital lobe) seizures, temporal lobe
(psychomotor) seizures, and minor (petit mal, myoclonic,
akinetic) seizures. About 3% of all children may have benign
About 1% of the general population has epilepsy, three-fourths of
whom develop it before the age of twenty-one. Of diagnosed
80% will have a good control of seizures through medication;
10% will obtain fair medical control;
10% will be poorly controlled or intractable.
It is estimated that about one-half of the epileptic population
in California is undiagnosed or unrecognized.
It is important to do a complete neurological examination to
determine the cause of seizures and if epilepsy is the correct
diagnosis. The neurological exam will generally include an
electroencephalogram (EEG) and sometimes a brain scan [computed
tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)]. These
diagnostic tools help the doctor determine the type and degree of
brain wave abnormality and help to rule out other causes for the
Treatment options for epilepsy can include:
Antiepileptic Medications: There are many
drugs available now, and multiple factors are involved in
selecting the right one for each patient. If a person with
epilepsy is placed on medication to control the seizure
activity, blood levels are requested periodically to determine
the level of the medication in the body.
Surgery: some kinds of epilepsy occur in a
very specific part of the brain — the “seizure focus.”
Sometimes having surgery to remove the seizure focus can be
effective in making seizures easier to control or even stopping
Other options: when medications aren’t enough
and surgery isn’t an option, some people with epilepsy benefit
from other treatments including the ketogenic diet (a high fat,
low carbohydrate diet with restricted calories) and vagus nerve
The vast majority of people with epilepsy live a full life.