What is Epilepsy?: An Overview Image

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that originates in the brain characterized by seizures. Neurons are nerve cells that process and send information via electrochemical signals in the brain. In an individual with epilepsy, these neurons produce irregular signals that can provoke seizures and other abnormal effects on emotions and behavior.

Who Is Affected by Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is one of the most common serious brain disorders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2009, approximately 50 million people around the globe suffered from epilepsy. The condition can develop at any stage of life, but is more likely to develop during childhood or senior years. Although people of all races and ethnicities are affected, the WHO found that 90 percent of all reported cases of epilepsy are found in developing regions.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America®, the risk that any given person will develop epilepsy is about 1 percent. Certain groups, however, are at a greater risk for developing the disorder than the general population. The probability of developing epilepsy is:

  • 10 percent for individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease
  • 13 percent for children with cerebral palsy
  • 22 percent for individuals who have suffered from a stroke
  • 25.8 percent for children with mental retardation
  • 33 percent for individuals who have had one unprovoked seizure
  • 50 percent for children with both mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

Causes of Epilepsy

For approximately half the individuals who have epilepsy, the cause of the disorder is unknown. In other cases, the cause is more obvious. A brain injury, for example, may interfere with normal neurological activity. Other causal factors may include:

  • Degenerative diseases (i.e. dementia)
  • Developmental disorders (i.e. autism)
  • Heredity
  • Serious and/or chronic illness (i.e. AIDS).

Epilepsy Seizures

Seizures occur when the brain’s neurological activity is abnormal or excessive. Seizures can last just a few seconds or up to several minutes.

Not all seizures are alike. Some of the most common symptoms of seizures include:

  • Blank staring
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Quick, jerking movements.

While epilepsy seizures are called “unprovoked” seizures, there are actually a number of circumstances that may trigger the onset of a seizure. Some of these include:

  • Anxiety
  • Failure to take prescribed epilepsy medication
  • Fatigue
  • Flickering lights
  • Illness
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Overheating