Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness. Anyone can develop epilepsy. It affects both males and females of all races, ethnic backgrounds and ages.
There are two main types of seizures. Generalized seizures affect the whole brain. Focal, or partial seizures, affect just one part of the brain. A mild seizure may be difficult to recognize. It can last a few seconds during which you lack awareness. Stronger seizures can cause spasms and uncontrollable muscle movements, and can last a few seconds to several minutes. During a stronger seizure, some people become confused or lose consciousness. Afterward you may have no memory of it happening.
A variety of things can lead to seizures. Possible causes include:
- traumatic brain injury
- scarring on the brain after a brain injury (post-traumatic epilepsy)
- serious illness or very high fever
- stroke, which is a leading cause of epilepsy in people over age 35
- other vascular diseases
- lack of oxygen to the brain
- brain tumor or cyst
- dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- maternal drug use, brain malformation
- infectious diseases such as AIDS and meningitis
- genetic or developmental disorders or neurological diseases
- Heredity plays a role in some types of epilepsy. In the general population, there’s a 1 percent chance of developing epilepsy before 20 years of age.
Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain, seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. Seizure signs and symptoms may include:
- Temporary confusion
- A staring spell
- Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness or awareness
- Psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety.
- Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. In most cases, a person with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode.