What is epilepsy? Origin and causes

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Epilepsy is a medical disorder caused by the sporadic aberrant functioning of a set of neurons. It is not a psychiatric or mental illness. Most persons with epilepsy are functional the rest of the day because their main symptom is sporadic seizures.

An epileptic seizure is usually triggered by excess electrical activity in a group of hyperexcitable neurons (brain cells). It can affect functions such as movement or behavior or the level of consciousness (the notion of what is happening around one ).

The type of seizure is determined by the damaged area of the brain and the etiology of epilepsy.

Two types of seizures are distinguished: generalized seizures, which affect the entire brain’s surface and cause loss of consciousness, and partial or focal seizures, where the discharge begins in a specific area that can spread to the rest of the cortex. Cerebral.

In some cases, the patient experiences the aura just before the crisis. It is the feeling that you will immediately suffer a partial or generalized problem. It is a partial epileptic seizure that is about to spread, although not all auras are precursors to severe attacks.

To suffer from epilepsy, you must have had more than one seizure. Epilepsy can be accentuated by various circumstances, such as hormonal changes or lack of sleep.

How many people have epilepsy?

The prevalence is estimated at around eight patients per 1000 inhabitants in Spain. This means that nearly 400,000 people have epilepsy and, although this disease can affect anyone at any time in their life, in most cases, it manifests itself in childhood and after 65 years of age. 

Fifty million people worldwide have epilepsy daily. Although factors like hormonal changes or a lack of sleep may exacerbate it, this disease equally affects people of all races and countries.

Because of a high fever, diabetes, other illnesses, stress, alcohol, or drug usage, some persons may experience several seizures. These patients, unfortunately, do not have epilepsy because they are not suffering from a brain disorder.

It is one of the most frequent chronic neurological illnesses, and after headaches, it is the second most common reason for neurological outpatient consultation. Despite this, epilepsy patients continue to be stigmatized due to misinformation and social discrimination.

On the other hand, Antiepileptic medications can help around 70% of persons with epilepsy live a life free of seizures.

It is pretty standard for people to experience at least one epileptic seizure throughout their lives. 

It is believed that between 2 and 5% of the population will have an epileptic seizure.

To be diagnosed with epilepsy, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) states that you must have experienced multiple seizures.

Keep in mind that some people may experience many seizures due to a high fever, diabetes, other illnesses, stress, or the use of alcohol or drugs. However, this does not imply that these individuals have epilepsy.

What are the causes of epilepsy?

The brain controls all body functions. If something disturbs the brain’s normal functioning, an epileptic seizure can occur. Identifying the cause of attacks can be helpful when deciding on a treatment plan. However, in more than 70% of people with epilepsy, the cause cannot be identified.

Some causes of epilepsy:

  • Diseases of other organs, such as liver and kidney disease, diabetes, and alcoholism.
  • Familial epilepsies.
  • Problems before birth that affect brain growth.
  • Problems during childbirth, such as brain injury.
  • Brain hemorrhage, i.e., the formation of a blood clot inside the brain.
  • Lead poisoning.

How is epilepsy treated?

The first step is to see a specialist make sure that the patient has epilepsy before starting any treatment. In addition, the diagnosis of epilepsy requires that you have suffered at least two unprovoked seizures. 

Antiepileptic medicines (AEDs) are the most prevalent treatment, controlling seizures in about 70% to 80% of patients. Moreover, the pills help restore the chemical equilibrium of neurons and reduce aberrant electrical discharges.

Between 20 and 30% of persons do not react to simple pharmacological treatment (with only one medicine), necessitating multiple therapies. Even so, some epilepsies do not respond to medication, and surgery or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), which involves implanting an electrode beneath the skin of the neck, may be required.

Although the treatment improves the quality of life and, in most cases, manages to control seizures, epilepsy patients still have to face the social stigma derived from not knowing about the disease.