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Epilepsy: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Epilepsy is condition that causes unprovoked, recurrent seizures. The seizures result from abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which can cause strange sensations, loss of muscle control or loss of consciousness. This common neurological disorder can affect people of all ages and has many causes.

SSM Health offers a multidisciplinary approach to managing and treating epilepsy and other seizure disorders. Make an appointment with an SSM Health Neurosciences specialist today to learn how we can work together to address the consequences of living with epilepsy and find a way to maximize your quality of life.

Types & Causes of Epilepsy

There are many types of epilepsy “syndromes” defined by a specific set of features, such as the cause of the seizures, what provokes the seizures, the area of the brain effected and how severe and frequent the seizures are. Classifying your epilepsy can help you and your doctor determine what treatments may be the most effective. In general, epilepsy is often defined in two broad categories: generalized epilepsy and focal epilepsy.

Generalized Epilepsy

During a generalized seizure, abnormal brain activity involves all areas of the brain. Generalized epilepsy is thought to be caused by a genetic predisposition, but can also result from brain infections, head injuries or lack of oxygen.

Focal Epilepsy

With focal epilepsy, the abnormal electrical activity begins in smaller, isolated areas of the brain and spreads to other parts. Focal epilepsies are often caused by lesions in the brain and can usually be detected with an MRI scan.

In some cases, the cause of your seizures may never be identified.

Signs & Symptoms of Epilepsy

The signs and symptoms of seizures vary between patients and can range in severity from mild to severe. In some cases, you may not even be aware that you are having a seizure. Symptoms may include:

  • Jerking movements of the arms and legs
  • Muscles becoming weak or limp
  • Repetitive movements like staring, clapping and lip smacking
  • Unusual head and eye movements
  • Changes in thinking or cognition, such as confusion or lack of response to noise or words
  • Sleepiness and irritability upon waking
  • Falling suddenly for no apparent reason
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Apnea

Epilepsy is a serious condition, but it can be managed. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your SSM Health provider, who may recommend a neurologist specializing in epilepsy to help you can get the best possible care for your condition.

Treating Epilepsy

Your SSM Health team will work with you to determine the best way to treat your seizures. The first step it to determine the type and cause of your epilepsy. Your treatment plan will depend on this information. Finding the most effective treatment for your epilepsy may take some trial and error.

Treatment for epilepsy almost always begins with seizure medication. The goal of treatment with medication is to find the right kind and dose of medication needed to control your seizures with the fewest side effects. In addition, your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help control your symptoms. If that proves ineffective, surgery may be another viable option.

In certain cases, surgery can dramatically improve the quality of life for people with epilepsy. If you are considering epilepsy surgery, your doctor will perform a series of tests to pinpoint the area of the brain causing your seizures. Ideal candidates for epilepsy surgery are those whose seizures originate from a single location in the brain. That location must also be in a region of the brain where the abnormal area can be safely removed without causing problems with the function of the brain.

Living with epilepsy is not easy. Unexpected seizures are frightening and can affect your daily activities, but the neurosciences team at SSM Health can help you navigate your condition so you can take back control of your life.

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