Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures (convulsions) over time. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity that cause changes in attention or behavior. Epilepsy occurs when permanent changes in brain tissue cause the brain to be too excitable or jumpy. The brain sends out abnormal signals. This results in repeated, unpredictable seizures. Epilepsy may be due to a medical condition or injury that affects the brain, or the cause may be unknown (idiopathic). Common causes of epilepsy include stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, infections, including brain abscess, meningitis, encephalitis, and AIDS, brain problems that are present at birth (congenital brain defect), brain injury that occurs during or near birth, metabolism disorders that a child may be born with (such as phenylketonuria), brain tumor, abnormal blood vessels in the brain and other illness that damage or destroy brain tissue.
Epilepsy seizures usually begin between ages 5 and 20, but they can happen at any age. There may be a family history of seizures or epilepsy. Symptoms vary from person to person. Some people may have simple staring spells, while others have violent shaking and loss of alertness. The type of seizure depends on the part of the brain affected and cause of epilepsy. Most of the time, the seizure is similar to the previous one. Some people with epilepsy have a strange sensation (such as tingling, smelling an odor that isn’t actually there, or emotional changes) before each seizure. This is called an aura. It is surprising how many individuals without epilepsy are being referred to the epilepsy unit and that these numbers seem to be increasing. Over 33% of patients believed to have intractable seizures are actually present stress-triggered symptoms.
Some patients, which include mothers in child-custody battles and returning war veterans, as well as over-extended professionals alike, have psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES). Signs of PNES appear to be stress-related behaviors that mimic and are misdiagnosed as epilepsy, but are not due to abnormal electrical discharges in the brain that characterize the neurological disorder. Anti-seizure medications fail to stop these patients’ symptoms, indicating that there is nothing physically wrong with their brains’ electrical activity. PNES behavior is costly in several ways including; costs of doctor visits, medications that do now work. There’s a lot of stress out there in our modern society, and many people don’t have the skills to cope with that.