Seizures take on many different forms from one person to another.

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Epilepsy - What is it?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that makes people susceptible to seizures. A seizure is a change in sensation, awareness, or behavior brought about by a brief electrical disruption in the brain.

Seizures can be a very short disruption of the senses, to periods of unconsciousness or staring spells, to convulsions. Some people have just one type of seizure. Others have more than one type.

Seizures may look different but they are caused by the same thing: a sudden change in how the cells of the brain send electrical signals to one another.

If you have epilepsy, you probably already know that it's not a mental disorder. It can be caused by anything that affects the brain, including tumors and strokes. Sometimes epilepsy is inherited. Sometimes, no cause can be found.

Doctors treat epilepsy primarily with seizure-preventing medicines. Although seizure medications are not a cure, they control seizures in most people with epilepsy.

Surgery, diet (primarily in children), or electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, a large nerve leading into the brain, may be options if medications fail to control seizures. Several drugs (called antiepileptic or anticonvulsant drugs) are prescribed to prevent seizures. Many factors are involved in choosing the right seizure drug. The goal of treatment is to stop seizures without side effects from the medicines.

In the medical community, the Latin word "ictus" may be used to describe a seizure. Related terms are used to define events associated with a seizure. Using this lexicon, "ictus" refers to the seizure itself; "ictal" defines the period in which the seizure occurs; "pre-ictal" and "post-ictal" describe periods before and after the seizure; while inter-ictal refers to the period between seizures. Thus, when an EEG reading, for example, is described as "inter-ictal," it means that it was recorded between seizures.

Epilepsy is from the Greek word epilambabein, meaning to seize or to attack. Epilepsy has been recognized as a unique disorder for thousands of years, and references to its symptoms occur through the ages, from Babylonian tablets to the Bible.
If you are being treated with antiepileptic drugs, you may need blood tests from time to time, but it is important to remember that drug levels cannot tell how you feel or how many seizures you have had. Achieving the best seizure control possible depends on your taking the same amount of the medicine every day in the manner prescribed by your doctor. However, epilepsy can affect many aspects of life besides the need to take a certain number of pills on time.

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