What is Epilepsy and What Causes a Seizure?

Imagine walking into a casino. All the lights are blinking in rich colours, the sounds of bells and chimes ring through the air, and the crowd surrounds you. All of a sudden, it becomes too much and you get confused. You may see or hear things that are not real. Suddenly, you lose consciousness and drop to the floor and start seizing. Imagine the fright as you are completely out of control of the situation while your body jerks around helplessly. Imagine that this situation can happen anywhere without any warning. This is epilepsy, and it can affect the life of anyone, especially the elderly population, to the degree that life can become unmanageable.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder (neurological disorder) in which nerve cell activity in the brain becomes disrupted, causing seizures or periods of unusual behaviour, sensations and sometimes loss of consciousness.” The intensity and type of symptoms can vary from person to person. Some may stare off into the distance for a short time while others experience what was described in the opening situation. Either way, it is a frightening disorder that can have deadly effects if a symptom occurs at the wrong time, especially for the elderly.

The most dangerous effect of an epileptic seizure is that is could occur while driving or swimming, which can put one’s life and the lives of others in danger. In other situations, a fall due to a seizure can lead to bumps, bruises, broken bones, or internal injuries depending on the physical health of the individual and the severity of the fall. However, the positive news is that it is treatable, and 80% of those with the condition can control it with medication or sometimes surgery.

UK Epilepsy Statistic

In the UK, 600,000, or one in every 103 people, have epilepsy according to Epilepsy Action.
Further statistics regarding epilepsy from this same source are even more staggering.

● Every day in the UK, 87 people are diagnosed with epilepsy.
● Only 52 per cent of people with epilepsy in the UK are seizure-free. It is estimated that 70 per cent could be seizure free with the right treatment.
● Many people with epilepsy can take part in the same activities as everyone else with the help of simple safety measures where appropriate.
● People who have been seizure-free for a year can re-apply for their driving licence.

Epilepsy should not to be taken lightly given the fact that it can occur in anyone and seizures at the wrong time can be disastrous. What makes this disorder even more complex is the fact that there are 40 different types of seizures, and a person can have more than one type. This means that not only is it important to be aware of the different seizures if you or a loved one has the disorder, but the effects the disorder has on someone go beyond what happens if a seizure occurs at the wrong time or place. Even though many people are able to live normal lives and participate in the same activities as others, it can still have an impact on a person on a more regular basis.

There are three general categories of seizures that epilepsy can cause: focal, or partial, seizures, generalized seizures, or additional seizure types. Focal seizures occur in one part of the brain’s hemisphere. That is to say there is a site or focus where the seizure starts. There are two subcategories under focal seizures. The first is with retained awareness when the person remains conscious and will remember what happens afterwards. In seizures such as this, the person will see, smell, or hear things that are not there. The effects it has on a person depends on the location in the brain the focal seizure occurs. For example, a seizure that occurs in the temporal lobe of the brain may cause the individual to hear or see things that are not there. Other parts of the brain can lead to jerking of certain body parts that will stop, nausea, vomiting, tingling or numbness in a body part, or a strange sensation.

For some people, the seizure starts with a déjà vu type feeling. They can experience some of the following.

● butterflies in the stomach
● flashes of light
● odd noises (e.g. buzzing in the ear)
● strange smells (e.g. burnt toast, rotten eggs)
● a powerful emotion
● dizziness

A seizure that starts like this can actually act as an early warning sign that a bigger seizure may come. If someone, like a child, or elderly person is having seizures as a new disorder, teaching them about these “auras” is important. If someone you know has a focal seizure, simply comfort and stay with them.

Generalised seizures occur when there is a seizure across the entire brain. These seizures can cause unconsciousness without convulsions. They can begin and end abruptly. This is a milder generalised seizure. The other end of the spectrum with a generalised seizure is when the person loses consciousness right away and drops to the floor. They will start convulsing while their limbs jerk about. There may be foaming around the mouth, and the person may soil themselves due to a loss of control over bodily functions. These seizures can last up to five minutes. In this case, the person will slowly regain awareness. It may take several hours for recovery to start. The person will need rest and medical attention. With this kind of seizure, you want to keep anything out of the person’s mouth and turn them on their side. After the seizure, explain what happened to the person.

Other types of seizures are rare. One example is something called infinite spasms. This is where there may be 5 to 50 spasms in a short span of time, perhaps even seconds. The person will have many of these through a day. They involve quick and sudden movements that come in clusters.

By this point, you may be concerned about seizures for yourself. As it is true that no one is immune from epilepsy, it is important to know that epilepsy is caused by traumatic brain injury such as a car accident, a structural brain issue at birth, stroke, genetics, or a combination of these. Knowing your family history and taking preventative measures for good health to avoid strokes as well as protecting your brain by wearing helmets when riding bikes and driving safely can go a long way to prevent yourself being in a situation where you may become epileptic.

As you can gather from the effects of different types of seizures, when not controlled by surgery or medication, they can affect someone on a daily basis. In the mild form, an epileptic seizure can cause confusion and experiencing things that are not real. This can be disconcerting and may stop someone from wanting to interact in social situations or daily activities. In the elderly, this can lead to isolation, which is not good for their health. If anything, the elderly should not isolate themselves. On the other end of the scale, epilepsy can be debilitating. It can cause someone to need constant care because they cannot participate in daily life and do things like driving or caring for themselves, and as mentioned earlier, they can cause serious physical damage to the person’s body.

At Epilepsy Alarms, we care about those with Epilepsy as much as those who care for them. That is why we carry a range of products that allow you to monitor your loved ones should they have epilepsy so you can get them help or respond as fast as possible should a seizure occur. We hope you found this article informative and that it gave you some considerations for caring for your loved one with this disorder. Please visit our product page or contact us to learn how we can help you and your loved one find peace of mind.