What is Epilepsy?

Convulsive disorders or convulsions (seizures, fits) like epilepsy can be caused by any kind of brain damage. Brain lesions of any type (physical or biochemical), size, or location may result in seizures. Hypoxia, poisoning, birth trauma, congenital malformations, infections, tumours, and all the factors that may result in brain injury are potential causes of convulsive disorders.

When a person has a convulsion, it is because there is an abnormal discharge of electrical energy in the brain. The results of such a discharge are predictable: a sudden alternation of consciousness, usually accompanied by motor activity and/or sensory phenomena.

“Warning Signs of Epilepsy”

  • Sensory Indications
    • Unusual smells, tastes, or feelings
    • Unusual experiences and ‘out-of-body’ sensations; feeling detached
    • Body, people, or situations look unexpectedly familiar, different or strange
  • Mental Indications
    • Feeling spacey, ‘fuzzy’, or confused
    • Periods of forgetfulness or memory lapses
    • Daydreaming episodes
  • Physical Indications
    • Jerking movements of an arm, leg, or body
    • Tingling, numbness or feelings of electricity in part of the body
    • Headaches and unexplained sleepiness, weakness
    • Unexpected loss of control of urine or stools

In the case of a major motor seizure, the individual suddenly falls and is “seized” by strong involuntary muscle contractions. Immediately before a seizure, the person may experience a peculiar sensation or hear certain sounds, see certain images, perceive certain odours, or have some other internal sensation called an aura.

Because convulsions are often unpredictable and frightening to naive observers, individuals with convulsive disorders have been feared and socially stigmatized. The fear and stigma attached to a convulsive disorder that is recurrent and therefore properly termed epilepsy, are particularly great and add to the psychological and educational problems involved. Fortunately, however, public attitudes toward epilepsy appear to have become less negative during the past several decades.

“Facts on Epilepsy”

  • Epilepsy is a chronic noncommunicable disorder of the brain that affects people of all ages
  • Around 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy
  • Nearly 80% of the people with epilepsy are found in developing regions
  • Epilepsy responds to treatment about 70% of the time
  • People with epilepsy and their families can suffer from stigma and discrimination in many parts of the world

Source: World Health Organisation Fact Sheet on Epilepsy (Oct 2012)

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