Epilepsy is a common but severe neurological condition that affects 65 million people worldwide. In the United States, this disorder affects about 3 million people. People of all ages can develop epilepsy, but it is more reported in young children and older adults. Males are slightly more prone to this neurological disorder than females.
In this blog, we will understand epilepsy better. The content contains an overview of this neurological illness, types of epilepsy, its causes, symptoms, medications, and its association with the covid vaccine.
Epilepsy is a chronic health condition that causes unprovoked, recurrent seizures. As we all know, an episode is a sudden electrical activity rush in the brain. Among the two primary types of seizures, generalized seizures affect the whole brain, while focal (or partial) seizures strike just one part of the brain.
A mild epileptic seizure may be difficult to recognize as it can last for a few seconds, during which you lack awareness or consciousness. While more substantial seizures can trigger uncontrollable muscle cramps and spasms and can for a few seconds to several minutes. During a stronger epilepsy episode, some people may become confused or unconscious. Afterward, that person may have no memory of it happening.
There are several responsible factors due to which you might have a seizure, including head trauma, high fever, shallow blood pressure, or alcohol withdrawal. There is no proper cure for epilepsy, but one can manage the disorder with medications other strategies.
Types of Epilepsy
There are four basic types of epilepsy: generalized epilepsy, focal epilepsy, generalized and focal epilepsy, and unknown if generalized or focal epilepsy. But here we will focus on the first two, most widespread epilepsy types:
In this type of epilepsy, seizures take place on both sides of the brain, or one may say that it quickly affects brain cells networks on both sides. It can be further divided into two basic kinds of seizures:
- Generalized motor seizures: They cause uncontrollable movements in your body, sometimes dramatically. When it strikes, your muscles stiffen and jerk while you lose consciousness. It includes clinic, tonic, clonic-tonic, and myoclonic forms of seizures.
- Generalized non-motor seizures: They make you stop your task and stare into space. You may also start doing the same movements repeatedly, like flickering the eyes or smacking your lips. It includes typical, atypical, and myoclonic forms. And, in these seizures type, the person feels like he is not there.
In focal or partial epilepsy, seizures develop in a specific area or a network of brain cells on one part of the brain. It comes in four categories:
- Focal aware seizures: If you know what is happening in your surroundings, it is an “aware” seizure, also known as “simple partial seizures.”
- Focal impaired awareness seizures: If you are confused, have no clear idea of what is happening during the epileptic seizure episode, or do not remember any detail, it is an impaired awareness seizure. It is also called “complex partial seizures.”
- Focal motor seizures: In this condition, there will be movement in your body to some extent, anything from twitching to rubbing hands, to spasms, to walking around. It includes some other types such as atonic, clinic, myocloni, tonic, and epileptic spasms.
- Focal non-motor seizures: They do not cause cramps or other movements. Instead, it changes how you feel or think. You might experience strange feelings, intense emotions, or other symptoms such as goosebumps, racing heart, or heat or cold waves.
What causes epilepsy?
Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half the people with this medical condition. In the other half population, the health condition may be traced to various factors, such as:
- Genetics (hereditary) influence: Some epilepsy forms run in families, categorized by the type of seizure individual experiences or the brain part that is affected. These cases indicate that there is a genetic influence. Researchers have associated some epileptic seizures forms with specific genes, but genes are only part of the primary cause of epilepsy for most. Some particular genes can make an individual more sensitive to environmental conditions that trigger seizures.
- Brain abnormalities: Problems with the regular functioning of the brain, including brain tumors or vascular malformations like arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and cavernous malformations, can result in epilepsy. Stroke is one of the most prominent causes of epilepsy in adults older than 35 years.
- Head trauma: A car accident or other traumatic injuries can lead to epilepsy.
- Infections: HIV viral encephalitis, Meningitis, and some parasitic infections can also cause epilepsy.
- Prenatal injury: Babies before birth are sensitive to brain damage that can result from several factors, such as poor nutrition, infection in the mother, or oxygen deficiencies. Damage to the brain can lead to epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
- Developmental problems: Sometimes, epilepsy can be associated with an individual’s developmental disorders, such as autism.
Since epilepsy results from abnormal activity in the brain, seizures can affect any process coordinated by your brain. The usual signs and symptoms may include a staring spell, temporary confusion, stiff muscles, loss of awareness or consciousness, uncontrollable jerking movements, or psychological symptoms such as anxiety, fear, or Deja vu.
Epilepsy symptoms vary depending upon the seizure type. A simple focal (partial) seizure does not involve loss of consciousness; symptoms include dizziness, twitching (and tingling) of limbs, and alterations to the sense of smell, taste, hearing, sight, or touch. While complex partial seizures involve loss of consciousness, other symptoms include unresponsiveness, staring blankly, and performing repetitive movements.
Generalized seizures affect the whole brain, and the symptoms vary in each type. There are six types:
Absence seizures, also known as “petit mal seizures,” cause a blank stare. This medical condition may also cause repetitive body movements such as lip-smacking or blinking. There is also usually a temporary loss of awareness.
Tonic seizures symptoms include muscle stiffness. In contrast, Atonic seizures result in loss of muscle control and are more likely to make you fall suddenly. The characteristics of Clonic seizures are repeated, jerky muscle movements of your face, neck, and arms.
Myoclonic seizures are characterized by spontaneous rapid twitching of the arms and legs. While Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as “grand mal seizures,” consist of shaking, stiffening of the body, biting the tongue, loss of bladder or bowel control, or loss of consciousness.
The most common and first-line treatment for epilepsy is antiseizure medication. Drugs that help deal with the frequency and severity of seizures can not stop a seizure that is already in progress and is not a cure for epilepsy.
Firstly, your stomach will absorb the medicine, and then it travels through the bloodstream to the brain. It affects the brain’s neurotransmitters to reduce the electrical activities that result in seizures.
Antiseizure medications travel through the digestive tract and wear off from your system through urine. There are several antiseizure drugs available on the market. Your medical healthcare professional can prescribe a single medication or a combination of some effective medicines, depending upon the types of seizures you have.
Common medications for epilepsy include lamotrigine (Lamictal), levetiracetam (Keppra), valproic acid (Depakote), topiramate (Topamax), ethosuximide (Zarontin), and carbamazepine (Tegretol). These medications are usually available in tablet, liquid, or injectable drug form, and pharmacists prescribe them once or twice a day.
Your medical healthcare expert may ask you to take the smallest possible dose in the initial stage, which they will occasionally adjust according to your health requirements. You should take the medication consistently as per the prescription.
Some potential side effects of antiseizure medications (for epilepsy) may include dizziness, fatigue, poor coordination, skin rash, or memory problems. Rare but severe side effects include depression, anxiety, and inflammation of the liver or other organs.
Epilepsy affects several people differently, but most individuals experience improvement in their conditions with antiseizure medication. If children with epilepsy start taking antiseizure drugs at an early stage, the seizures stop, and they can stop taking treatment from these medications.
Epilepsy and Covid Vaccine
There are no reported cases of epilepsy due to previous doses of the Covid vaccine. In the case of booster dose (additional covid vaccine to build up or maintain immunity) also three are no special warnings or concerns linked to individuals with epilepsy and seizures. But you should check and follow CDC recommendations if you have this neurological disorder.