For Quick Alerts
For Daily Alerts

International Epilepsy Day: Epilepsy Causes, Symptoms, Triggers, Risk factors & Treatment

Every year, the second Monday in February is observed as International Epilepsy Day to promote awareness of epilepsy in more than 130 countries. The Day is a joint initiative by the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE) and the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE).

What Is Purple Day/Epilepsy Awareness Day?

Launched in 2008 by Cassidy Megan, a young girl, Purple day was started to raise awareness for people with epilepsy and to let them know that they aren't alone. The day encourages awareness of epilepsy and to cast away some of the myths related to the condition.

By 2015, the day began to be observed in many countries and as of today, Purple Day is celebrated all around the world in over 100 countries.


What Is Epilepsy?

A neurological disorder, epilepsy affects normal brain activity and causes it to become abnormal, which results in seizures or periods of unusual behaviour, sensations and loss of awareness [1].

The chronic disorder causes sudden recurrent seizures that are unprovoked. The type of epilepsy is classified by the type of seizure a patient has. Seizures are of two types mainly, generalised seizures and focal or partial seizures [2]. Generalised seizures affect the whole brain and partial seizures affect just one part of the brain.

A common neurological disorder, epilepsy affects 65 million people around the world. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million persons with epilepsy (PWE) in India and various studies point out that the overall prevalence of epilepsy in India is 5.59-10 per 1000 people [3].

Epilepsy is more common in young children and older adults and it occurs slightly more in males than in females. There's no cure for epilepsy, but the disorder can be managed with medications. Epilepsy can develop at any age. Diagnosis usually occurs in early childhood or after age 60.


What Are The Causes Of Epilepsy?

In 50 per cent of the people, there is no specific identifiable cause and in the other half, the condition may be linked to various factors such as the following [4]:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Brain tumour or cyst
  • Genetic influences
  • Serious illnesses
  • Infectious diseases such as AIDS and meningitis
  • Dementia or Alzheimer's disease
  • Vascular diseases
  • Stroke, which is a leading cause of epilepsy in people over age 35
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Maternal drug use, prenatal injury, brain malformation or lack of oxygen at birth
  • If you have a parent whose epilepsy is linked to genetics, that increases your risk to 2 to 5 per cent [5].


What Are The Symptoms Of Epilepsy?

Seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy, and it can differ from person to person and according to the type of seizure.

Focal (partial) seizures: When the seizures appear to result from abnormal activity in just one area of your brain, they're called focal seizures. And, simple partial seizure symptoms include the following [6]:

  • Dizziness
  • Changes to the sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing, or touch
  • A tingling feeling and twitching of limbs
  • Complex partial seizures involve loss of awareness or consciousness and the symptoms are as follows [7]:

    • Unresponsiveness
    • Staring into space blankly
    • Perform repetitive movements, such as hand rubbing, chewing or swallowing
    • Generalized seizures: These are of six types and they are as follows [8]:

      • Absence seizures also called petit mal seizures causes a blank stare and repetitive movements like lip smacking or blinking.
      • Atonic seizures cause loss of muscle control and can cause you to trip and fall.
      • Clonic seizures cause repeated, jerky muscle movements of the face, neck, and arms.
      • Myoclonic seizures cause spontaneous quick twitching of the legs and arms.
      • Tonic seizures cause muscle stiffness.
      • Tonic-clonic seizures also called grand mal seizures causes stiffening of the body, shaking.
      • loss of bladder or bowel control, biting of the tongue and loss of consciousness.

What Triggers Epilepsy?

Some of the most common triggers of an epileptic seizure are as follows [9]:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Illness or fever
  • Caffeine, alcohol, medicines, or drugs
  • Stress
  • Bright lights, flashing lights, or patterns
  • Skipping meals, overeating or specific food ingredients
  • However, a single incident doesn't always mean something is a trigger as it is often a combination of factors that trigger a seizure.


What Are The Risk Factors For Epilepsy?

  • Age (the onset of epilepsy is most common in children and older adults but, it can also occur at any age) [10]
  • Head injuries
  • Family history
  • Dementia
  • Brain infections
  • Childhood seizures
  • Vascular diseases

What Are The Complications Of Epilepsy?

Seizures, at certain times, can lead to dangerous circumstances such as the following [11]:

  • Drowning
  • Falling
  • Driving accidents
  • Emotional health issues
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP)

When To See A Doctor?

You must immediately go to a doctor in the following cases [12]:

  • A seizure lasting more than five minutes
  • Breathing or consciousness doesn't return after the seizure stops
  • A second seizure follows immediately
  • High fever
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Injury during the seizure

How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?

To diagnose your condition, the doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. Several tests may be ordered to diagnose epilepsy and determine the cause of seizures. The diagnostic tests include the following [13]:

  • A neurological exam to test your behaviour, motor abilities, mental function and other areas
  • Blood tests to check for signs of infections, genetic conditions or other conditions
  • Neuropsychological tests to assess your thinking, memory and speech skills.
  • An electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • High-density EEG
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Functional MRI (fMRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT)
  • Statistical parametric mapping (SPM)
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
  • Curry analysis

How Is Epilepsy Treated?

In most people, epilepsy can be managed. The treatment for you will be based on the severity of symptoms, your health, and your response to therapy. The treatments for epilepsy are as follows [14][15]:

  • Anti-epileptic (anticonvulsant, antiseizure) drugs: These medications can reduce the number of seizures. Some potential side effects include fatigue, dizziness, skin rash, poor coordination and memory problems.
  • Brain surgery: The area of the brain that causes seizure activity will be removed or altered.
  • Vagus nerve stimulator: A device is surgically placed under the skin on the chest and electrically stimulates the nerve that runs through your neck to help prevent seizures.
  • Keto diet: Most people who don't respond to medication benefit from this high fat, low carbohydrate diet [16].

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can epilepsy be cured?

A. Today, most epilepsy is treated with medication. Drugs do not cure epilepsy, but they can often control seizures very well.

Q. Can you grow out of epilepsy?

A. Studies show that the majority of children with epilepsy grow out of it, with or without treatment.

Q. What are the first signs of a seizure?

A. Temporary confusion, a staring spell, uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs, loss of consciousness or awareness and cognitive or emotional symptoms, such as fear, anxiety or deja vu.

Q. Can you feel a seizure coming on?

A. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes, and sometimes it's hard to tell that a person is having one.

Q. How can epilepsy kill you?

A. Death from epilepsy is rare. The leading cause of death among people with uncontrolled epilepsy, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, or SUDEP, kills 1 in 1,000 people who have the disorder.

Q. What is the first sign of a seizure?

A. Warning signs may include feeling funny or dizzy, or having jerking and twitching for several years.

Q. Does epilepsy go away with age?

A. Treatment with medications or sometimes surgery can control seizures for the majority of people with epilepsy. Some people require lifelong treatment to control seizures, but for others, the seizures eventually go away. Some children with epilepsy may outgrow the condition with age.

Q. Can puberty cause seizures?

A. Puberty does not cause epilepsy. But some girls find that changes in their hormones can trigger seizures. Some types of epilepsy syndromes usually begin during your teenage years.

Q. What is the rarest form of epilepsy?

A. Dravet syndrome is a rare form of childhood epilepsy but possibly more common than was previously thought.

Q. What a seizure looks like?

A. There are slight variations, but a typical tonic-clonic seizure will look like: A sudden loss of consciousness, sometimes with vocalisation or calling out. The eyes, head and body may turn in one direction. The body becomes stiff (tonic), followed by jerking of the muscles (clonic).

Q. Can you have a seizure in your sleep?

A. You can have a seizure with any form of epilepsy while you sleep. But with certain types of epilepsy, seizures only occur during sleep.

Read more about: epilepsy symptoms causes