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Spotlight on Epilepsy

Writer – Hannah White

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders, and in most cases, they will cause seizures. A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can present them in many ways, from disturbance of consciousness, motor phenomena, to special seizures.

Epilepsy is estimated to have affected around 65 million people worldwide, with over 600,000 people in the UK to have known to be diagnosed. Epilepsy is common in under 20-year-olds and older adults (over 65-year-olds) yet tends to be more common in young people due to causes from complications at birth, childhood infections, or accidents, whereas older adults are at higher risk from strokes which can also cause epilepsy. However, epilepsy can occur at any age and varies from person to person, even when those are suffering from the same type of epilepsy.

Informative poster of Epilepsy illustration – Image by Freepik

Types of epilepsy

Epilepsy isn’t just a one size fits all condition, there are 3 groups of seizure types.

Focal onset seizure

Focal onset seizures are the most common type of seizures experienced by those who have epilepsy. These types of seizures are when a specific part of the brain is being affected during the seizure. This could then develop into a complex focal seizure, where the brain activity affected can spread to other areas of the brain. The main symptom of a complex focal symptom is when the person may appear to be staring blankly, and unaware of their surroundings.

Focal onset seizures can cause motor, autonomic, sensory, or psychic symptoms.

Motor symptoms: unconscious and involuntary movements, these can affect any parts of your body, mainly your face, hands, and toes.

Twitching and jerking muscle movements.

Sensory symptoms: when a seizure affects parts of your brain which are connected to your senses, this can make you think like something is happening when it isn’t.

They can affect all your senses, your visual may be affected through seeing flashing. You may hear unexpected sounds. Smell things that aren’t there. Suddenly have strange tastes that could be bitter or metallic. Finally, touch, feeling things under your skin, like pins and needles.

Autonomic symptoms: when a seizure presents itself, your body could involuntarily start sweating, or you can’t control your bowel movements.

Psychic symptoms: this is when a seizure causes change in your emotional state, for example, negative emotions of anxiety and fear. Or it could be positive, or feelings of déjà vu.

Generalised onset seizure

Generalised onset seizures start when all areas of the brain are affected by abnormal electrical activity.

There are 6 different types of generalised seizures.

Tonic-clonic seizures: is a combination of the characteristics of a tonic and clonic seizure. What people typically imagine when thinking of a seizure. Someone becoming rigid and falling to the floor if stood, then their body starts jerking. These could last between 1-3 minutes long, any longer than 5 minutes and you should call for medical help.

Absence seizure (petit mal): these are non-motor seizures which typically occur in children and young people. These seizures are normally very brief and cause a short lapse of awareness (few seconds).

Tonic seizures: a person may become rigid during these seizures, and could fall, which may cause injuries (lasting around 20 seconds).

Clonic seizures: during a clonic seizure the person may be showing signs of repetitive jerking on both sides of their body. Usually most common in babies (lasting for a few seconds to a minute). It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between a clonic or myoclonic seizure.

Atonic seizures: can cause a sudden loss of muscle tone, which causes a person to fall to the ground. This can often cause injury to the person. Normally involves both sides of the brain (lasting less than 15 seconds).

Myoclonic seizures: brief shock-like jerks, usually affecting the upper part of the body, but can sometimes affect the whole body. These seizures can sometimes come in clusters (only lasts a few seconds).

Unknown onset seizure

Unknown onset seizures are used to describe the seizures that are unable to show where they started in the brain. This may be for a few reasons, one being that the person was asleep during the seizure, or that no one was there to see the seizure.

Image by Freepik

What to do if you or someone you know has suspected epilepsy?

If you are showing signs of seizures and no one is aware of them, or if you have a child who is showing potential signs of a seizure, you should seek medical advice. By talking to a doctor about your concerns, they will be able to refer you to the correct people, carry out any necessary tests, e.g. MRI scans, EEGs, and then prescribe the correct medication.

As untreated epilepsy can be dangerous, as you don’t know when your seizures may come on and how long they could last. You could fall down the stairs, or fall when holding things, or if you’re driving could be extremely dangerous for you and other road users. So, it is vital that you see someone immediately if you suspect epilepsy.

First Aid is really useful to know, a great introduction to what to do if someone you care fore is having a seizure can be found here

Other Help and Information

Nhs Website

Epilepsy Foundation

Epilepsy Action

Epilepsy Society

Epilepsy Research Institute UK