Epilepsy is a chronic (long-lasting) medical condition marked by recurrent epileptic seizures. An epileptic seizure is an event of altered brain function caused by abnormal or excessive electrical discharges from brain cells. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurologic disorders, affecting up to 1% of the U.S. population.
Because absence seizures are usually quite brief, tend to strike during times of inactivity, and closely resemble daydreaming or "being off in one's own world," they may pass unnoticed by others and go undiagnosed for some time.
Absence seizures fall into two categories: typical and atypical.
Typical absence seizures begin abruptly, last 10 to 30 seconds, and resolve themselves without complication. The person simply stops in his tracks (and/or mid-sentence), and enters a staring, trance-like state...
Approximately 65% of people newly diagnosed with epilepsy have no obvious cause. Of the remaining 35%, the more common reasons include stroke, congenital abnormalities (conditions we are born with), brain tumors, trauma, and infection.
3. Who treats epilepsy?
A neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system, is best able to diagnose and treat epilepsy. Some neurologists take advanced training and become epileptologists, specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy. Many internists and family practice doctors also treat epilepsy.
4. How is epilepsy diagnosed?
To diagnose epilepsy, doctors try to determine the type of seizure you are having and the cause, since various seizure types respond best to specific treatments. The diagnosis is based on your medical history and a complete physical and neurological exam.
Additional testing may often be required, including an electroencephalogram (EEG). The EEG is the only test that can directly detect electrical activity in the brain (seizures are defined by abnormal electrical activity in the brain). During an EEG, electrodes (small metal disks) are attached to specific locations on your head. The electrodes are also attached to a monitor to record the brain's electrical activity.
If you become unconscious during a seizure, others who have often seen you before, during, and after seizures, such as family and close friends, should be present to provide details of your seizures.
5. How is epilepsy treated?
The majority of epileptic seizures are controlled with drug therapy, particularly anticonvulsant medications. The type of treatment prescribed will depend on several factors, including the type of epilepsy, the frequency and severity of the seizures, your age, overall health, and medical history. An accurate diagnosis of the type of epilepsy (not just the type of seizure, since most seizure types occur in different types of epilepsy) is critical to choosing the best treatment.