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It’s Epilepsy Awareness Month!
- What do you know about epilepsy or seizures?
- Did you know that epilepsy is a chronic health condition that affects the central nervous system?
- Learn all about epilepsy and seizures for Epilepsy Awareness Month!
MPH, MSN, WHNP-BC
November is Epilepsy Awareness Month.
This blog will cover all things epilepsy and seizures.
A seizure is when someone is having an abnormal, sudden electric disturbance in the brain. Epilepsy is defined as having two or more seizures at least 24 hours apart with no known underlying cause.
As more research on brain health and neurology continues to increase, seizures and epilepsy have garnered more attention in nursing care and mainstream media.
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a common chronic neurological disorder that involves a history of at least two seizures. Epilepsy can be difficult to diagnose and manage since its presentation can vary greatly. Some people can have only two seizures in their life. Other people may have more frequent seizures, sometimes occurring hundreds of times a day. Epilepsy can occur at any time, can affect anyone of any age, and is seen equally in men and women.
Historically, epilepsy was seen as a health condition that only affected children, those who were already ill, or those who are elderly.
However, over 3 million adults and over 470,000 children live in America with epilepsy.
Now, with more evidence-based research, epilepsy is more known as a chronic health condition with several medication and management options and deserves adequate detection, assessment, and management.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Seizures?
Learning about epilepsy means learning about seizures.
A seizure is when, for whatever reason, there is abnormal electric activity in the brain.
Common signs and symptoms of seizures include:
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Involuntary eye movements or prolonged starring
- Muscle stiffing
- Involuntary movements of the arms and legs
It is important to note that every seizure is unique and that many people have different presentations of symptoms. That is one aspect of seizures that Epilepsy Awareness Month aims to bring recognition to and awareness.
For instance, someone could have involuntary movements of their legs for a few seconds while someone else could be unconscious for a few minutes with rapid arm movements.
If seizures are left undetected and untreated, permanent injury or death can occur. If seizures are left without proper management, there can be lifelong issues with personal safety, job retention, academic performance, relationships, and self-identity.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Seizures?
There are two main types of seizures – partial and generalized.
Partial seizures, also known as focal seizures, occur when there is abnormal brain activity in one part of someone’s brain.
- There are two types of focal seizures: focal seizures without a loss of consciousness and focal seizures with impaired awareness.
- Focal seizures without loss of consciousness means the person is awake during the seizure. These seizures can involve involuntary body movements and altered perception.
- Focal seizures with impaired awareness involve a change in consciousness and altered perception. Some people report that in this type of state, they are in a dream. People also often report performing repetitive tasks or trouble responding to stimuli.
Generalized seizures involve all areas of the brain. There are six types of generalized seizures.
- Absence seizures often occur in children and adolescents. Absence seizures can be characterized by their short duration and with subtle clinical presentation. This type of seizures involves someone starring into space or involuntary lip smacking and can occur several times a day.
- Tonic seizures cause stiff muscles and can affect consciousness. These seizures often influence muscle movement in someone’s legs, arms, and back. This seizure can last for a few seconds to a few minutes.
- Atonic seizures, also known as drop seizures, cause a sudden loss of muscle control, often in the legs.
- Clonic seizures are associated with repeated jolty muscle movements often in the neck, face, and arms.
- Myoclonic seizures often appear as sudden brief twitches in the upper body, arms, and legs.
- Tonic-clonic seizures are the most dramatic type of seizure and often what people think of when they hear the word seizure. Tonic-clonic seizures can cause an abrupt loss of consciousness, body stiffening, and involuntary body movements.
How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?
There is no single test to diagnose epilepsy, which makes obtaining an epilepsy diagnosis a lengthy journey for many.
Often, health care providers will do a full neurological exam, blood work, an electroencephalogram (EEG), and other imaging tests.
What Causes Seizures?
Unfortunately, there is no single known cause for seizures. A fever, brain tumor, nervous system infection, genetics, or head trauma can trigger a seizure, but there is still much research to be done to determine the exact causation for seizures.
How Is Epilepsy Managed?
Epilepsy can be managed with therapy, medication, or both.
It is important to note that there is no one single way to manage epilepsy.
Epilepsy management is something to be discussed with a health care provider and care team to determine the best course of action for someone’s needs and health goals.
How Can I Learn More About Epilepsy?
Some evidence-based organizations that can provide you with the latest information and patient education tools on epilepsy include:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- The Epilepsy Foundation
- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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