What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is commonly known as a condition where a person has unprovoked seizures more than 24 hours apart. However, a task force of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) redefined epilepsy in 2005 as “a disease characterized by an enduring predisposition to generate epileptic seizures and by the neurobiological, cognitive, psychological, and social consequences of this condition.” The emphasis here is that a seizure, by itself, is an event whereas epilepsy is a disease involving recurrent unprovoked seizures.
Epilepsy is diagnosed when they have multiple seizures that were not caused by some known and reversible medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. While typically the cause is completely unknown, epileptic seizures may come from a brain injury or a family history of epilepsy.
People with epilepsy may have one or many different types of seizures and may demonstrate other neurological problems. Many of the epilepsy symptoms in children mimic that of ADHD, Autism, Tourette Syndrome, and many other neurological disorders. With epilepsy, though, one’s safety can be significantly impacted so it is vital that an accurate diagnosis be obtained so that the most effective treatment can be implemented.
The Epilepsy Foundation reports that the human brain is the source of all epilepsy. While the condition may impact several different parts of the body, the electrical events causing the seizure occur in the brain.
A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain caused by complex chemical changes occurring in the nerve cells. Usually there’s a balance of brain cells that either excite or stop other brain cells from sending messages. Seizures cause an imbalance between the exciting and stopping activities which causes an imbalance and triggers electrical activity. How a person’s seizure presents itself is dependent upon which messages were impacted by the seizure activity.
Epilepsy Symptoms in Children
Like most other medical conditions, seizures affect different people in different ways. Not all seizures are noticeable or stereotypic, meaning they don’t all do what people expect them to do based on historical cases. Different things can happen during the different phases of a seizure, but again, symptoms vary from person to person.
Also, epilepsy symptoms in children come in a wide variety that closely mimic ADHD and other neurological conditions. The ADHD type symptoms that parents see may be side effects of other conditions, such as epilepsy. For example, my son would not sleep through the night for many years and would often come to my bed at night and then would fall asleep in class each day. A sleep specialist determined he was having hallucinations at night causing fears. A sleep study found that he was having seizure activity and not reaching REM sleep at all.
Some people can feel a seizure is coming. They may feel it days or hours before it happens which gives them some opportunity to prepare for it. Not all epilepsy patients can feel it coming though. Prodome is considered the beginning of a seizure but it isn’t actually part of the seizure. This is where a person may experience feelings, sensations, or changes in behavior that may indicate a seizure is coming in the days or hours ahead. It gives the person an opportunity to find safety, take their medication, or use a rescue treatment to try and prevent the seizure. An aura is considered the very beginning of the seizure as it is actually part of the seizure. Not everybody gets auras. Like prodome, an aura is a feeling, sensation, or change in behavior that is similar each time a seizure occurs. Auras can often occur without a seizure following and are considered to be a partial seizure.
- Dizzy or Lightheaded
- Racing Thoughts
- Strange or Pleasant Feelings/Sensations
- Numbness or Tingling
- Visual Loss or Blurring
- Loss of Ability to Speak
- Deja Vu (a feeling of being there before)
- Jamais Vu (a feeling that something is very familiar)
The ictal phase, or middle of the seizure, correlates with the electrical activity in the brain. It begins with the first symptom experienced, including the aura, and lasts until the end of the seizure activity. The visible symptoms of the seizure may actually last longer than the seizure itself. These may be aftereffects of the seizure or may be unrelated entirely.
Common Seizure Symptoms:
- Any symptoms listed for Auras
- Memory Lapses or Forgetfulness
- Blackouts/Loss of Awareness
- Pass outs/Loss of Consciousness
- Distorted Sounds/Loss of Hearing
- Unusual Smells (i.e. Burning Rubber)
- Unusual Tastes
- Loss of Vision/Blurriness
- Flashing Lights
- Visual Hallucinations
- Feeling Detached/Out of Body Sensations
Common Physical Symptoms:
- Repeated Non-Purposeful Movements
- Lip Smacking
- Repeated Non-Purposeful Movements
- Loss of Consciousness
- Body Becomes Rigid/Tense
- Fast Jerking Movements
- Loss of Movement or Muscle Tone
- Head may fall forward
- Body may slump or fall
- Rapid Blinking or Staring
- Eyes may roll, look sideways, or look upward
- Speech Difficulties
- Garbled Speech
- Nonsense Talk
- Abrupt Stop to Talking
- Twitching or Jerking Movements
- One/Both Sides of Face
- Whole Body
- May start in one place and spread
- May stay in one place
- Twitching or Jerking Movements
- Rigid Muscles
- May fall suddenly
- Drooling/Unable to Swallow
- Sudden Loss of Urine/Stool
- Loss of Skin Tone
- Looks Pale or Flushed
- Dilated Pupils
- Clenched Teeth
- Biting Tongue
- Increased Heart Rate
- Breathing Difficulty
The postictal phase, or end of the seizure, consists of the recovery period. How long this period lasts and what symptoms occur depend on the type of seizure and which part of the brain it impacted. This varies from person to person.
Common Post-Seizure Symptoms:
- Delayed Response
- Injury from Falling
- Memory Lapses
Often, the first step to treating epilepsy is through medication. This is the most common method of treatment to control or prevent seizures. Many different anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs) help control seizures and you and the doctor will discuss types of seizures and other factors in order to pick the most beneficial for you and your circumstances. Be sure to always talk to your doctor before starting a stopping a medicine as this can cause very severe seizures that can lead to death.
You will also want to learn about seizure first aid. Basic seizure first aid will help you determine what actions to take when you or someone you know is having a seizure in order to be safe and comfortable. Knowing these steps could save a life.
When medication does not effectively control seizures, and more than one medication has been tried, doctors may consider surgery as the next treatment option. Like AEDs, there is no guarantee that the surgery will control the seizures so the doctors will work with you to weigh the benefits against the risks of doing surgery.
Dietary Therapy may also be considered to try to help control seizures. Specifically, a Ketogenic diet or the modified Atkins diet have been shown to be effective.
There are new devices being developed to help control and prevent seizures, such as Responsive Neurostimulation and Vagus Nerve Stimulation. There are also seizure alerting devices to help detect seizures for those that don’t have the more obvious symptoms during seizures.
Herbal Therapy and Medical Marijuana are currently being investigated for treatment of epilepsy.
Cause of Epilepsy
In many cases, a cause for epilepsy cannot be found. There are two primary types of seizures: generalized seizures and partial seizures.
Generalized Seizures: These types of seizures affect both sides of the brain at the same time. Doctors believe hereditary factors play a role in these types of seizures.
Partial Seizures: These types of seizures affect only a limited area of the brain. For example, my son’s seizures affect only his left frontal lobe. There are many causes for partial seizures, though may not always be identified. Genetic factors may play a role in these types of seizures.
- Brain Infection
- Brain Injury
- Cortical Displasias
It is so easy to get ADHD diagnosed, that children are often receiving the incorrect diagnosis and being ineffectively treated and/or medicated without further evaluation.
Epilepsy is one of a very long list of medical conditions that has symptoms which mimic ADHD. The big problem with this is that children with ADHD are treated with medications that tend to make seizure disorders worse. Stimulant medications are a definite no-no with Epilepsy as they tend to cause seizures.
With an accurate diagnosis and effective seizure control, many epileptic people grow up to be very successful individuals. There have been many:
- Agatha Christie (Writer)
- Alexander the Great (Ancient Greek King)
- Alfred the Great (Anglo-Saxon King)
- Alfred Nobel (Swedish Chemist, Engineer, Innovator, Manufacturer, and Inventor)
- Aristotle (Greek Philosopher)
- Bud Abbott (Producer, Comedian, Actor)
- Chanda Gunn (Ice Hockey Player)
- Charles Dickens (Novelist)
- Charles V of Spain (Ruler of Holy Roman Empire)
- Danny Glover (Actor)
- DJ Hapa (Executive Director)
- Edgar Allen Poe (Author and Literary Critic)
- Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky (Russian Writer and Essayist)
- George Frederick Handel (Composer)
- Hannibal (Military Commander and Tactician)
- Hector Berliouz (French Romantic Composer)
- Hugo Weaving (Film, Stage, and Voice actor)
- Isaac Newton (Scientist)
- James Madison (POTUS)
- Julius Caesar
- Leonardo Da Vinci (Architect, Botanist, Musician, Scientist, Mathematician, Engineer, Inventor, Painter, Writer, etc.)
- Lewis Carrol (English Author, Photographer, Mathematician, Anglican Clergyman, Logician)
- Lord Byron
- Louis XIII of France (King)
- Margaux Hemmingway (Model and Film Actress)
- Martin Luther (German Monk, Theologian, and Church Reformer)
- Michelangelo (Sculptor)
- Napoleon Bonaparte (French Military and Political Leader)
- Neil Young (Musician)
- Nicolo Paganini (Italian Violinist, Violist, Guitarist, and Composer)
- Paul I of Russia (Emperor)
- Peter Tchaikovsky (Russian Composer)
- Peter the Great
- Pythagoras (Greek Philosopher)
- Richard Burton (Actor)
- Robert Schumann (German Composer)
- Sir Walter Scott (Scottish Historical Novelist and Poet)
- Socrates (Greek Philosopher)
- Theodore Roosevelt (Soldier, Historian, Explorer, Naturalist, Author, Governor, POTUS)
- Truman Capote (Writer)
- Vincent van Gogh (Artist)
Clearly, with accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, epileptic individuals can bring an abundance of creativity, compassion, and brilliance to society. While it’s easy to get caught up in blaming parents, vaccines, or poor decisions for their child’s disabilities, criticizing labels and other methods of raising awareness, and theorizing about healthcare conspiracies, these people are part of our everyday lives and we owe them understanding at the very least. They give us the same in the best ways they know how.
Yes, there is an epidemic of misdiagnoses that causes annoyance and frustration surrounding children with ADHD, Epilepsy, and many other conditions and disabilities. The problem is that the very labels that society criticizes us for using are the ones that lead to our children getting the help that they desperately need. Ignorance is bliss. It’s easy to judge when it’s not your problem. How about we educate ourselves and raise some awareness instead? Be part of the solution, not the problem.