This is a central nervous system disorder resulting from abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Most of those who have epilepsy suffer their first attack during childhood, young adulthood or after age 50. In two-thirds of the cases, the cause of the seizures is not known, victims show no signs of physical illness or brain disorders. Outside of the seizures, they can lead a very normal life. One theory, however, being studied at Stanford University School of Medicine, in California, suggests that some forms of epilepsy are caused by abnormal brain cells that fire. in bunts. "The unique ability of these 'bursting cells' to readily discharge a number of electrical impulses makes them possible initiators of epileptic seizures,".And in some cases, a physical cause can be found. An injury to the brain at birth, an injury due to a hard blow to the head, a brain tumor or an endocrine disorder can result in epilepsy. All epileptic seizures are not the same, and treatment depends on the type of seizures suffered.
Those who suffer from the most common form of seizure, major muscular seizure, or grand mal, may experience a peculiar "aura" of smell, taste or sensation. They may see flashing lights or experience ringing in the ears. This aura is followed by sudden loss of consciousness and falling to the floor, with arms and legs held stiff. After about half a minute there is rhythmic jerking of the body, followed by incontinence. The seizure usually lasts about two to three minutes and is followed by a deep sleep. On waking, the victim may be dazed and have a headache or sore muscles but will have no recollection of the convulsion. Often, however, there is sudden loss of consciousness without any warning aura.
Minor muscular seizures, called petit mal, can occur as often as 20 times a day and may be mistaken for daydreaming. The victim becomes motionless and stares for a few seconds. He or she may lose balance and even fall. Petit mal convulsions are genetically determined and usually occur in children; they never begin after age 20.
Partial muscular seizures, called focal seizures, cause jerking movements that start in one part of the body, such as a twitching of the mouth or jerking of one arm, and may spread to other parts of the body. Psychomotor seizures, or complex partial seizures, cause unprovoked behavior such as abnormal laughter, crying or violent acts brought on by fear. The victim doesn't fall but cant understand what is being said or what is going on around him or her. Typically, the victim may experience a peculiar smell or taste, a hallucination of sounds, or dizziness or memory lapse and appear dazed and dreamy for a few minutes in each spell. He or she may walk around aimlessly, fidget and appear confused. This type of convulsion may start in childhood or in adulthood.
Although there is no cure for epilepsy, there are over 20 medications-Dilantin, Tegretol, Zarontin and phenobarbital among them-that a doctor can prescribe to effectively keep the disease under control.
Most children with epilepsy can be taken off medication after two years without a recurrence of seizures.