Visiting your doctor for regular exams, exercising, and eating a well-balanced diet are important tasks for a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, you may still develop conditions that affect your underlying health even when completing these tasks. While this is shocking to learn, it estimated that 150,000 people will develop epilepsy each year in the United States. Although the condition is common, most people are not familiar with this serious neurological disorder. With this guide and the help of your doctor, you will be able to understand, diagnose, and treat epilepsy.
The 411 on Epilepsy
Epilepsy stems from an underlying brain condition, but its electrical effects spread through the entire body. In most cases, the electrical currents that spread from the brain through the nervous system cause seizures.
If you have one or more seizures that are not causes from drug or alcohol withdrawal or low blood sugar, you most likely will be diagnosed with epilepsy.
Causes of Epilepsy
Determining the cause of epilepsy can be difficult since there are many factors to consider. Most people are diagnosed with the disorder after the brain is damaged. This damage may occur after an injury or an infection.
Mothers that use drugs during pregnancy increase their unborn baby's risk of developing epilepsy. In addition, low oxygen levels during birth may damage a baby's brain, and this can lead to epilepsy.
Lastly, developing a genetic form of epilepsy is also possible. If you were passed one or more genes that are common in epileptic patients, you may also suffer from the condition.
Symptoms of Epilepsy
A seizure is the main symptom of epilepsy, but not all seizures are alike. If you are having a seizure, you may do the following:
- Stare at nothing for a few seconds or minutes
- Pass out
- Shake violently
- Stiffen up your body parts
- Speak words, phrases, and noises that do not make sense
- Hear, see, and smell things that are not actually present
- Bite down on your tongue
- Lose control of bowels or bladder
- Salivate or foam out the mouth
If you believe you have epilepsy, your doctor will need to complete a thorough physical exam. Neurological tests to check your motor skills and mental functioning will be conducted. Also, a series of blood tests will be necessary.
An electroencephalogram is the most common test used to diagnose epilepsy. Also known as an EEG, this test records the electrical activity through the brain. Your doctor will attach electrodes to your scalp that will read the electrical currents of the brain.
During a seizure, the test will show abnormal brain waves. However, abnormalities in the brain waves without having a seizure is most likely due to epilepsy.
A CT scan can also be used to diagnose epilepsy, since it is effective for finding tumors, bleeding, and cysts in the brain. Also, your doctor may suggest an MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, detects abnormalities in the brain that may be causing your seizures.
Treatment for Epilepsy
Once you are diagnosed with epilepsy, your doctor will design a treatment to correct the underlying cause. If you have an issue affecting your brain, such as a tumor or swelling, surgery is essential. If your epilepsy stems from genetics and you do not have any damage to the brain, your doctor will prescribe a series of anti-seizure medications.
Most patients are able to decrease or stop seizures while taking these medications, but finding the right medication and dosage does require a process of trial and error.
Epilepsy surgery is also an option to consider, but only if your seizures are stemming from one area of the brain. Surgery can remove this affected part of the brain. If the problematic area controls your speech or fine motor skills, surgery will take place while you are awake. This allows doctors to monitor your speech and movements while performing the surgery.
Living with epilepsy is possible, but the seizures can wreak havoc on your life. Using this guide, you will understand how to diagnose and treat this common neurological condition. Talk to a professional, such as one at Allegheny Brain And Spine Surgeons, for more information.