What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a condition in which a person has recurrent seizures. A seizure is defined as an abnormal, disorderly discharging of the brain's nerve cells, resulting in a temporary disturbance of motor, sensory, or mental function.
There are many types of seizures, depending primarily on what part of the brain is involved. The term epilepsy says nothing about the type of seizure or cause of the seizure, only that the seizures happen again and again. A stricter definition of the term requires that the seizures have no known underlying cause. This may also be called primary or idiopathic epilepsy.
- Episodes of abnormal electrical activity within the brain result in seizures.
- The specific area of the brain affected by the abnormal electrical activity may result in a particular type of seizure.
- If all areas of the brain are affected by the abnormal electrical activity, a generalized seizure may result. This means that consciousness is lost or impaired. Often all the person's arms and legs stiffen and then jerk rhythmically.
- One seizure type may evolve into another during the course of the seizure. For example, a seizure may start as a partial, or focal, seizure, involving the face or arm. Then the muscular activity spreads to other areas of the body. In this way, the seizure becomes generalized.
- Seizures caused by high fevers in children are not considered epilepsy. Also see children's seizures.
Healthy people may have seizures under certain circumstances. If the seizures have a known cause, the condition is referred to as secondary or symptomatic epilepsy. Some of the more common causes include the following:
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/6/2016
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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