Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that’s defined by having recurrent, unprovoked seizures. It happens when the normal nerve cell activity in your brain becomes disturbed or interrupted, causing a wide range of seizure-related symptoms, including but not limited to:
For about half of epilepsy patients, the condition can’t be linked to a specific cause or influence. In other cases, the disorder may be traced to a definitive factor, including:
Family history: Certain types of epilepsy tend to run in families, making it highly likely that there’s a genetic component to these disorders.
Brain disorders: Having a stroke or brain tumors can cause epilepsy; in fact, stroke is a major cause of epilepsy for patients older than 35.
Brain trauma: Sustaining head trauma on the sports field, in a car accident, or somewhere else can cause epilepsy.
Viral infections: Certain viral infections, including meningitis, viral encephalitis, and AIDS can lead to epilepsy.
Developmental problems: People with autism, neurofibromatosis, and other developmental disorders are more likely to have epilepsy.
Fetal brain injury: Babies that sustain brain damage during fetal development -- whether it’s due to a lack of oxygen, poor maternal nutrition, infection, or trauma --are prone to epilepsy.
Epilepsy affects people of all ages, and is the fourth most common neurological disorder. In addition to the three million Americans who have it, epilepsy impacts approximately 65 million people worldwide. Roughly one in 26 people in the US will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives.
Although a patient is said to have epilepsy if they experience two or more unprovoked seizures that are at least 24 hours apart, diagnosing epilepsy is a complex undertaking that usually requires a comprehensive neurological exam, blood tests, and a variety of tests to detect abnormalities in the brain.
Once a patient has been properly diagnosed, treatment typically begins with anti-epileptic medications designed to reduce or eliminate seizures. Finding the right medication or combination of medications and the correct dosage can be a complex undertaking, but with proper treatment, about 60% of epilepsy patients can become seizure-free within a few years.
Patients with uncontrolled epilepsy can find the best treatment with an epileptologist, or a neurologist who is specially trained to treat epilepsy. Dr. Alberto Pinzon, Board-Certified in epilepsy, is the on-staff epileptologist at The Neurology Group.