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What is Epilepsy?

epilepsy brain

Epilepsy is a neurological condition affecting around 600,000 people in the UK, making it one of the most common neurological conditions. Epilepsy can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life, including their physical and mental wellbeing, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Understanding Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological condition that is characterised by recurrent seizures which can vary in intensity and duration. Seizures occur due to sudden, excessive electrical activity in the brain, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms that include:

  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Staring spells
  • Uncontrollable movements
  • Temporary confusion

The symptoms of epilepsy can vary widely depending on the type of seizure and the area of the brain affected. There are many different types of seizures, each with its own set of symptoms and triggers. The three main groups of seizures are known as: Focal Onset, Generalised Onset and Unknown Onset.  Each category can be described by various motor and non-motor symptoms:

Motor symptoms:

  • Clonic: rhythmic jerking movements
  • Tonic: muscles become stiff
  • Atonic: muscles becoming weak or limp
  • Myoclonus: brief muscle twitching

Non-motor symptoms 

  • Absence seizures: staring spells
  • Behaviour arrest: cessation of movement
  • Changes in sensations: temperature, gastrointestinal sensations and racing heart

Some individuals may experience warning signs before a seizure, known as an aura, which can help them prepare for an impending episode. These are actually focal seizures that affect one side of the brain in a small area. It is quite common for these auras to lead into another seizure which is why it can be seen as a warning sign. Individuals can feel odd sensations, changes in mood and feelings of Deja Vu.

What causes Epilepsy?
The exact cause of epilepsy is often unknown, but it can be attributed to various factors, such as genetics, head injuries, brain tumours, infections, and developmental disorders. Some individuals may develop epilepsy as a result of a brain injury or a stroke, while others may have a genetic predisposition to the condition.

Diagnosis and Treatment
The National Health Service (NHS) plays a significant role in diagnosing and treating epilepsy. Patients can receive care from neurologists, epilepsy specialist nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Diagnosing epilepsy typically involves a thorough medical history, physical examination, and various tests, such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) and imaging studies like MRIs or CT scans. Once diagnosed, treatment for epilepsy usually involves medications known as Anti-Epileptic Drugs (AEDs) to control seizures. In some cases, surgery or other interventions may be recommended to help manage the condition effectively.

Living with Epilepsy
Living with epilepsy can present numerous challenges for individuals and their families. Managing medications, coping with the fear of having seizures, and dealing with the stigma associated with the condition are common issues faced by those with epilepsy. It is important for individuals with epilepsy to have a strong support system in place, one that includes healthcare providers, family members, and support groups, to help them navigate the challenges they may encounter.

Epilepsy charities in the UK, such as Epilepsy Action and Epilepsy Society, offer valuable support services. They provide information and resources for individuals living with epilepsy, as well as their families and caregivers. These organisations also work to raise awareness about epilepsy and reduce stigma surrounding the condition.

In addition to medical and charitable support, individuals with epilepsy in the UK may be eligible for financial assistance. They can apply for disability benefits to help cover the costs associated with their condition, such as medication, transportation, and daily living expenses.

Employment support is also available for individuals with epilepsy who may face challenges in the workplace due to their condition. Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with epilepsy under the Equality Act 2010. Occupational Health Assessment Ltd have a guide on various reasonable adjustments that are available for individuals with the condition. 

Epilepsy is a complex neurological disorder that can have a profound impact on those with the condition. By increasing awareness, promoting research and offering support services, we can help improve the lives of those affected by epilepsy. It is important to increase understanding of the condition and support ongoing efforts for researching better treatments and possibly a cure for this challenging condition.

Author: NeuroDirect