According to the Mayo Clinic, epilepsy is a “central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.” Anyone can develop epilepsy and it affects all genders, races, ethnic backgrounds, and ages. Symptoms can vary widely, from staring blankly for a few seconds during a seizure to twitching of arms or legs, and may include temporary confusion, loss of consciousness or awareness, and psychiatric symptoms such as fear or anxiety. Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half the people with the condition. For the other half of the population with epilepsy, the condition may be traced to various factors, including genetic influence, head trauma, brain conditions, infectious diseases, prenatal injury, or developmental disorders. There are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of epilepsy, which include age, family history, head injuries, dementia, and stroke and other vascular diseases.
To diagnose a person with epilepsy, a doctor will review their symptoms and medical history, along with ordering a neurological exam and blood tests. They may also suggest other tests to detect brain abnormalities, such as electroencephalograms (EEG), computerized tomography (CT) scans, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and/or a functional MRI. An accurate diagnosis of a person’s seizure type and where seizures begin gives the best chance for finding an effective treatment. Doctors may begin treatment of epilepsy with medications, which may help people become seizure-free. For some people, medications may not treat their epilepsy and their doctor may suggest surgery or different types of therapies, such as vagus nerve stimulation, a ketogenic diet, or deep brain stimulation.
Researchers continue to study epilepsy and are studying many potential new interventions for epilepsy, including responsive neurostimulation and minimally invasive surgery. During the last 28 years, NIDILRR has funded several projects to study the impact of epilepsy and develop and test interventions, including a currently funded project that is studying a home-based self-management and cognitive training program to improve the quality of life for people with refractory epilepsy. NARIC’s information specialists searched REHABDATA and found over 1,500 research articles, book chapters, and factsheets related to epilepsy from the NIDILRR community and beyond. If you have any questions about epilepsy or would like assistance in conducting your own search in NARIC’s databases, contact NARIC’s information specialists for more information.
Please note: This article provides basic information and is not intended to diagnose or recommend interventions for epilepsy. If you believe you have experienced a seizure, seek medical advice from a qualified primary care provider or specialist.