What is epilepsy?
Most people know of epilepsy as a seizure that causes the patient to fall on the floor, shake uncontrollably, foaming in the mouth, and incontinence. The ancient Greeks believed that such a person was a jinn. And hence the origin of this word: it means “to be caught or attacked” in Greek.
Undoubtedly, during a seizure (sometimes referred to as epilepsy or episode) the patient loses control over various body functions: some lose control of their muscles, others lose control over their thinking process or bladder … This is due to a disorder in the brain.
What is a seizure?
An epileptic seizure can best be described as a sudden storm in the brain. There is a temporary malfunction in the network of connections between millions of cells in the brain. These brain cells constantly exchange information. Normally this happens in a planned way. In epilepsy patients, large groups of brain cells sometimes initiate information exchange with each other at the same time. This turmoil that arises leads to an epileptic seizure. However, the brain has the ability to restore its own order. Hence, the seizure will disappear gradually. However, in some patients, seizures may take longer.
You could say that the brain of an epilepsy patient is slightly more sensitive than that of a healthy person. The brain’s function between seizures in an epilepsy patient is often just as normal as in other people. Even during an EEG scan that measures the electrical activity of the brain, nothing unusual is usually seen. However, this does not mean that EEG scanning is not a valuable diagnostic method.
In fact, a person with epilepsy is sick only during the seizure. Therefore, the goal of any treatment is to minimize the risk of a seizure occurring as much as possible. In most patients, drug use can significantly reduce the risk of seizures.
A person is considered to have epilepsy only if they have had at least two seizures and are having seizures regularly (even if that means only once a year). Therefore, a seizure does not automatically lead to a diagnosis of epilepsy.
Epilepsy in all its forms and sizes
Epilepsy is not a disease with a specific cause. This disease is actually a collection of symptoms. Seizures come in all shapes and sizes.
Basically, there are two types of seizures:
• Seizures originating in a specific area of the brain; doctors define it as a partial seizure or a partial-onset seizure;
• Seizures arising from all brain cells at the same time; this is known as a generalized seizure. An important feature of this seizure type is generally loss of consciousness. However, this does not mean that patients faint all the time. Often there are very short moments of absence (diving) that are passed without others noticing. This type of seizure is also known as ‘absence seizure’.
In children, epilepsy may disappear completely. This sometimes applies to adults; However, even if their epilepsy continues, their illness can often be acceptably brought under control with medication.