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Understanding Seizures and Epilepsy

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What Is a Seizure and What Is Epilepsy?

Seizures, abnormal movements or behavior due to unusual electrical activity in the brain, are a symptom of epilepsy. But not all people who appear to have seizures have epilepsy, a group of related disorders characterized by a tendency for recurrent seizures.

Non-epileptic seizures (called pseudoseizures) are not accompanied by abnormal electrical activity in the brain and may be caused by psychological issues or stress. However, non-epileptic seizures look like true seizures, which makes diagnosis more difficult. Normal EEG readings and lack of response to epileptic drugs are two clues they are not true epileptic seizures. These types of seizure may be treated with psychotherapy and psychiatric medications.

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Birth Control for Women With Epilepsy

If you are a woman who has epilepsy, there are some important things you should know before using birth control or planning a pregnancy. Any birth control that is safe for women, in general, is safe for women with epilepsy. However, having epilepsy -- and some treatments for the condition -- can make some forms of birth control less effective. Also, because anti-seizuremedications for epilepsy can increase the risk of birth defects, it's important to plan pregnancy carefully.

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Provoked seizures are single seizures that may occur as the result of trauma, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), low blood sodium, high fever, or alcohol or drug abuse. Fever-related (or febrile) seizures may occur during infancy but are usually outgrown by age 6. After a careful evaluation to estimate the risk of recurrence, patients who suffer a single seizure may not need treatment.

Seizure disorder is a general term used to describe any condition in which seizures may be a symptom. Seizure disorder is a general term that it is often used in place of the term ''epilepsy.''

Who Is Affected by Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a relatively common condition, affecting 0.5% to 1% of the population. In the United States, about 2.5 million people have epilepsy and about 9% of Americans will have at least one seizure in their lifetimes.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy occurs as a result of abnormal electrical activity originating in the brain. Brain cells communicate by sending electrical signals in an orderly pattern. In epilepsy, these electrical signals become abnormal, giving rise to an "electrical storm" that produces seizures. These storms may be within a specific part of the brain or be generalized, depending on the type of epilepsy.

Types of Epilepsy

Patients with epilepsy may experience more than one seizure type. This is because seizures are only symptoms. Therefore, it is essential that your neurologist diagnose your type of epilepsy, not just the type(s) of seizure you are having.

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