Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain which causes short-term, uncontrolled activity in the brain cells. This can manifest in seizures, twitches and temporary loss of consciousness and absences. Depending on the form of epilepsy, this is known as generalised or focal seizures. Generalised seizures affect the whole brain, while focal episodes stem from a single place (focus) in the brain.
Epilepsy is characterised by repeated epileptic seizures. A one-off epileptic fit is not yet deemed to be epilepsy. Epilepsy is one of the most common brain diseases of all. It is estimated that around 5% of the population will suffer an epileptic seizure and around 1% will fall ill with epilepsy during their lives.
Epilepsy can occur for very different reasons. Brain injuries, strokes, brain tumours, poisoning, metabolic disorders or lack of oxygen during birth or antenatal maldevelopments are possible causes. In many cases, it is not possible to find a specific cause for the disease.
An epileptic seizure can manifest itself in very different ways. The spectrum ranges from short absences or muscle twitching through to generalised seizures which affect the whole body. Medicine differentiates in principle between two different types of seizures: focal seizures and generalised seizures. Focal seizures stem from a particular structure in the brain which is damaged. For example, from a brain tumour. Accordingly, the seizure only manifests in the body part which is controlled by this area of the brain. This may be an uncontrolled movement of an arm or a leg, or only uncontrolled muscle twitches. During a generalised seizure, the uncontrolled stimulation of the brain cells attacks the entire brain. This results in periods of unresponsiveness (absences), short-term unconsciousness or the typical seizures with loss of consciousness, fall, stiffness of the body and muscle twitching. After a seizure, those affected are often exhausted, confused and sleepy. An epileptic seizure cannot be interrupted. However, you can catch those who fall and lower them to the ground. You should not try to right the affected person, to suppress the seizures or force something between the person’s teeth. It is best to wait until the seizure has passed and then place the affected person into the recovery position.
In rare cases, if an epileptic seizure lasts longer than five minutes or the seizures recur quickly one after the other, this is known as status epilepticus. It is an emergency which requires rapid medical intervention.
Seizures or symptoms which suggest that the patient has a disorder of the brain should be immediately checked by a doctor. Epilepsy is diagnosed on the basis of the patient’s medical history, the symptoms and with the help of a special examination, an electroencephalogram, in which electrodes are placed on the head and the brain’s electrical waves are measured. The examination is completely painless.
Treatment of epilepsy depends on the form of epilepsy and the cause, unless it is known. Anti-epileptic medication is taken to prevent seizures. It must taken regularly and usually for your entire life. Neurosurgical treatment is possible for some forms of epilepsy which do not respond to medical treatment. In the process, zones in the brain which trigger epilepsy are shut down surgically.