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About Epilepsy

Overview
Epilepsy is a nervous system disorder (neurological disorder) in which the nerve cell activity in your brain is disturbed, causing you to experience unusual behavior and sensations, loss of consciousness, or seizures

Definition
Epilepsy is a disorder that results from the surges in electrical signals inside the brain, causing recurring seizures. Seizure symptoms vary. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others have full-fledged convulsions. Epilepsy is not a rare condition, and can affect almost anyone. In fact, most people know someone with epilepsy. Numerous famous people have had epilepsy, from Julius Caesar, the ruler of the Roman Empire to Danny Glover, an actor who has starred in many popular action movies and Marion Clignet, a silver medal Olympic cyclist.

Epilepsy and the Brain:
Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system, specifically the brain. In simple terms, our nervous system is a communications network that controls every thought, emotion, impression, memory, and movement, essentially defining who we are. Nerves throughout the body function like telephone lines, enabling the brain to communicate with every part of the body via electrical signals. In epilepsy, the brain's electrical rhythms have a tendency to become imbalanced, resulting in recurrent seizures.
If you have seen a picture of the brain before, it probably looked like this one, which illustrates the outer surface of the upper brain. This outer surface contains numerous folds that increase the surface area and allow more cerebral cortex to be packed into the skull, giving us more "brain power." The brain is an extraordinarily complex organ. When it comes to understanding epilepsy, there are several concepts about the brain you'll need to learn. The first is that the brain works on electricity. Normally, the brain continuously generates tiny electrical impulses in an orderly pattern. These impulses travel along the network of nerve cells, called neurons, in the brain and throughout the whole body via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. A seizure occurs when the brain's nerve cells misfire and generate a sudden, uncontrolled surge of electrical activity in the brain. Another concept important to epilepsy is that different areas of the brain control different functions.
If seizures arise from a specific area of the brain, then the initial symptoms of the seizure often reflect the functions of that area. The right half of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left half of the brain controls the right side of the body. So if a seizure starts from the right side of the brain, in the area that controls movement in the thumb, then the seizure may begin with jerking of the left thumb or hand.

When to see the doctor

Seek immediate medical help if any of the following occurs:
If you experience a seizure for the first time, seek medical advice
The seizure lasts more than five minutes.
Breathing or consciousness does not return after the seizure stops.
A second seizure follows immediately.
You have a high fever.
You're experiencing heat exhaustion.
You're pregnant.
You have diabetes.
You've injured yourself during the seizure.

Epilepsy in Women

Starting a family :
Having epilepsy does not necessarily mean that starting a family will be any more difficult for you than for anyone else. However it may mean that you have a few more things to consider, such as AEDs or the effects of epilepsy on you and your baby.
If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, you can ask to have preconception counselling with your epilepsy specialist nurse or neurologist. This is an opportunity to talk through any issues you may have before becoming pregnant: to plan the pregnancy and to review your epilepsy and its treatment.

Menstrual cycles and periods :
Because of the changes in hormone levels that happen throughout the menstrual cycle, one in three women with epilepsy finds that their seizures are affected by their periods.
Some women regularly have their seizures at a particular time during their menstrual cycle. This might be just before or during their period, or at another time, such as ovulation. Women who have their seizures only at these specific times during their menstrual cycle (and at no other time), may have catamenial epilepsy.
Keeping a seizure diary can help to keep track of seizures, to see if there are any patterns to when they happen.
Women with catamenial epilepsy may be prescribed an extra AED, in addition to their regular AEDs, for the week before and during the first few days of their period. If you have catamenial epilepsy, you can discuss options for treatment with your specialist.

Contraception :
There are many different methods of contraception. Some may be less effective in preventing pregnancy for women taking certain AEDs. This is because some AEDs affect how well methods of contraception work

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a specialist, like a neurologist or a doctor called an epileptologist, who specializes in treating epilepsy.
Because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do:
Keep a detailed seizure calendar. Each time a seizure occurs, write down the time, the type of seizure it was and how long it lasted. Also make note of any circumstances, such as missed medications, sleep deprivation, increased stress, menstruation or other events that might trigger seizure activity. Seek input from people who may observe your seizures — including family, friends and co-workers — so that you can record information you may not know. Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
Take a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to soak up all the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot. Also, because you may not be aware of everything that happens when you're having a seizure, your doctor may want to ask questions of someone who has witnessed them.