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What Causes Epileptic Seizures?

Posted 26 March 2018

What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder (not a mental illness) and is often characterised by spontaneous or recurrent seizures. However, through medication and self-management of the condition, the chance of experiencing seizures can be significantly reduced.
 
Does it start in childhood?
Although epilepsy is more likely to be diagnosed in childhood, there is no specific age range when it can first occur. It can also occur later in life, in teen years, adulthood or senior years regardless of gender or ethnicity.

Research suggests that 3-4% of the Australian population will develop epilepsy at some stage in their lives. Epilepsy was once considered a disorder of the young as it was believed that most people would have experienced their first seizure before the age of 20.  However, this is not the case as those over the 55 years age group is seen as being  increasingly vulnerable to the disorder.
 
What causes epilepsy?
For about half of all those who are diagnosed, the cause is unknown. However for some people, there is a direct link between an epilepsy diagnosis and a head injury, stroke or other brain related activities.
 
What is a Seizure and what causes it?
The brain is made up of millions of nerve cells called neurons. These cells generate electrical impulses and messages to produce thoughts, feelings, movement and control body functions.

A seizure happens when the normal alternating pattern of impulses in the brain cells are disrupted causing the impulses to rapidly occur all at once.

Depending on the type of seizure, this can impact the person’s

  • sensation and feeling
  • awareness and consciousness
  • behaviour
  • or movement

Seizures can range in terms of length – some are very brief while others can last up to two or three minutes.

Seizures can be subtle resulting in momentary lapses in consciousness or can be more severe causing loss of body control.

Once the seizure is over the person gradually regains control and re-orients themselves to their surroundings, generally without any ill effects.
 
How is it treated?
There is medication available that can reduce or even completely eliminate seizures. While for others they may require surgery to reduce their epileptic symptoms. Epilepsy treatments can also be targeted to reducing the duration of a seizure.

Another way to reduce the risk of seizure is to avoid triggers which can include lack of sleep, missed medication, stress and flashing lights. 

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