Do seizures necessarily mean you have epilepsy? Are you at risk?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that includes recurring, unprovoked seizures. Worldwide, epilepsy affects about 65 million people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, including one in 26 Americans. The USC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center is a leader in treating epilepsy, seeing patients with some of the most difficult cases.

What’s a seizure, exactly?

A seizure occurs when the normal communications between nerve cells in the brain are disrupted. This can happen for many reasons, including high fevers, concussion, alcohol or drug withdrawal or fast fluctuations in blood sugar. It can also happen for unknown reasons in people who have epilepsy.

When someone has two or more unprovoked seizures that cannot be linked to any known causes, he or she is diagnosed with epilepsy.

How is epilepsy treated?

There’s currently no cure for epilepsy, but 70 percent of patients with epilepsy can control their seizures through medication or surgery. A special diet, historically recommended to help manage epilepsy in children but now growing in popularity among adults, can also help. Researchers at the USC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center are investigating the root causes and effects of this condition, which is translating into new medications, devices and surgical techniques. Many current clinical trials are giving patients new options, and in some cases, are completely freeing patients from seizures to the point where they can drive a car again.

What causes epilepsy? How is it diagnosed?

Epilepsy and its unprovoked seizures often have no detectable cause or reason. People with past brain injuries are more at risk, as are those with a family history of epilepsy. An estimated 100,000 US troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may develop post-traumatic epilepsy (PTE) that stems from traumatic brain injury suffered in combat. Tumors, strokes and an imbalance of neurotransmitters can also trigger epilepsy.

After a person has been diagnosed with epilepsy, a multidisciplinary team of specialists may investigate the cause and potential for a variety of therapies through scans and tests, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), MRI, or CT. Correctly diagnosing the specific type of seizure can help physicians choose the most appropriate treatment option.

What are the warning signs?

Before someone ever has a seizure, epilepsy can have some warning signs or symptoms, including headaches, fainting, vomiting, unusual tastes or smells, jerky movements, and strange, often indescribable feelings that some refer to as “out-of-body sensations.” These symptoms may build up and multiply before a seizure occurs, so it’s wise to bring it to the attention of your primary care physician if you’re experiencing any of these potential warning signs.

The USC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center

For more than 20 years, the USC Comprehensive Epilepsy Center has been tackling the most complex epilepsy cases, earning a Level 4 epilepsy specialist center accreditation from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers. If you are battling epilepsy and want to discuss your treatment options, request an appointment at (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273)

Sources:

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy
The Epilepsy Foundation
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health