Epilepsy is a common health disorder in which a person has a tendency to have recurrent unprovoked seizures.  The brain controls the body actions, sensations and emotions through neurons (nerve cells) that carry messages between the brain and the body.  These signals are transmitted through regular electrical impulses.  A seizure occurs when there is a sudden burst of electrical activity in the brain that disrupts this pattern.  The nature of seizure and the body parts affected by it depend on the part of the brain in which the abnormal electrical activity occurred.  Seizures can be in the form of loss of consciousness, a range of unusual movements, odd feelings and sensations or changed behaviors.

Many people can have seizures that are not diagnosed as epilepsy.  These seizure may have a known trigger or provocation and is unlikely to occur again unless the same provocation occurs.  Examples are febrile convulsions (febrile seizures) seen in children and seizures arising out of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Difference between seizure and epilepsy:

The main difference between a seizure and epilepsy is that seizures are a single occurrence, whereas epilepsy is a medical condition of chronic and recurrent seizures.  Though seizures are one of the most common symptoms of epilepsy, not everyone who has seizures suffers from epilepsy.  As for seizures, small disruptions in neuron interactions can cause twitches or spasms.  The sudden abnormal electrical impulses from the brain can cause changes in behavior and consciousness.  When it is recurrent and chronic, it progresses to epilepsy. 

Epileptic seizure types:

There are three diagnoses a doctor might make when treating a patient with epileptic seizures:

Idiopathic: There is no apparent cause.

Cryptogenic: The doctor thinks there is most probably a cause, but cannot pinpoint it.

Symptomatic: The doctor knows what the cause is. 

Descriptions of epileptic seizures:

Generally people think seizure means a convulsion, where someone becomes unconscious and falls with stiffness and jerking.  However, it is just one form of seizure, called a tonic-clonic seizure (previously known as grand mal).

Some people may have rapid attack of seizures in which they go blank for a few seconds, some people remain fully conscious during a seizure and are able to narrate their experience.  For most people, their consciousness is affected and they may be confused when the seizure ends.  Broadly seizures are described as the ones that affect both sides of the brain (generalized onset seizures) or a small part of the brain (focal onset seizures).  At times, seizures may evolve and start as one and progress into another.

Generalized onset seizures:

Generalized seizures affect both cerebral hemispheres (sides of the brain) from the beginning of the seizure. They are the most common and can cause loss of consciousness, either briefly or for a longer period of time, and are sub-categorized into:

  • Generalized tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures)
  • Myoclonic seizures
  • Atonic seizures
  • Absence seizures

Focal onset seizures (partial seizures):

In focal seizures electrical disturbance is limited to a specific area of one cerebral hemisphere (side of the brain).  Focal seizures most commonly arise from the temporal lobe of the brain.Partial seizures are subdivided into simple partial seizures (in which consciousness is retained); and complex partial seizures (in which consciousness is impaired or lost). Partial seizures may spread to cause a generalized seizure, in which case it is classified as partial seizures secondarily generalized.

Symptoms of epilepsy:

The main symptom of epilepsy is repeated seizures.  If one or more of the below-mentioned symptoms are present, the individual should consult a doctor, especially if they recur:

  • a convulsion with no temperature (no fever)
  • short spells of blackout or confused memory
  • intermittent fainting spells, during which bowel or bladder control is lost, which is frequently followed by extreme tiredness
  • for a short period, the person is unresponsive to instructions or questions
  • the person becomes stiff, suddenly, for no apparent reason
  • the person suddenly falls for no clear reason
  • sudden bouts of blinking without apparent stimuli
  • sudden bouts of chewing, without any apparent reason
  • for a short time the person seems dazed and unable to communicate
  • repetitive movements that seem inappropriate
  • the person becomes fearful for no apparent reason; they may even panic or become angry
  • peculiar changes in senses, such as smell, touch, and sound
  • the arms, legs, or body jerk, in babies these will appear as a cluster of rapid jerking movements

What causes epilepsy?

Every function in the human body is the result of messaging systems in our brain.  Epilepsy occurs when the system is disrupted by faulty and abnormal electrical activity.  In many cases, the exact cause of epilepsy is difficult to be pinpointed.  Some people have family history of epilepsy that make them more prone to this disorder.  Other factors that may predispose one to epilepsy include:

  • head trauma, for instance, during a car crash
  • brain conditions, including stroke or tumors
  • infectious diseases, for instance, AIDS and viral encephalitis
  • prenatal injury, or brain damage that occurs before birth
  • developmental disorders, for instance, autism or neurofibromatosis

Children under the age of 2 and adults above the age of 65 are more predisposed to epilepsy.

Diagnosis of epilepsy:

It is not that easy to confirm if a person suffered an epileptic seizure, especially if no one witnessed it.  Seizures are infrequent and sporadic, that make them even more difficult to diagnose.  In order to arrive at a diagnosis, the doctor may carry out a variety of tests and investigations including:

  • medical history, including a detailed account of the event
  • physical examination
  • pathology tests
  • electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • computed tomography (CT)
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Treatment for epilepsy:

Medications are the first-line of treatment for people affected with epilepsy.  Diet may also be fine-tuned to yield better results along with medications.

Anti-epileptic drugs work for most people. At Plexus, we have been able to effectively control seizures with proper use of the right medication. However, in some cases, due to several factors, drugs do not help. Some people cannot tolerate drugs and sometimes seizures still occur inspite of administering drugs.

In such cases, stem cell therapy helps manage the condition. Stem cell therapy can help with regeneration of the brain tissue. Stem cells can help reinstate normal neural activity thus helping in reduce seizures.

In a normal brain, there are a number of neurons, some neurons excite cells and some others that stop or inhibit the action of cells. There is a balance between these neurons that help us to function normally. In a patient with epilepsy this balance is disrupted, during seizures. This abnormal circuit is what stem cell therapy targets and repairs. Stem cell treatment aims to bring down these seizures by introducing specific group of neurons with inhibitory functions. It aims to reduce the frequency or even the occurrence of seizures and restore any behavioral deficits caused by the condition.
Stem cell therapy holds a great promise in the management of epilepsy.

Some quick epilepsy facts:

  • Epilepsy is a neurological disorder
  • Primary symptoms commonly include seizures
  • Seizures have a range of severity depending on the individual
  • Treatments include anti-seizure medications

For questions related to treatment of Epilepsy, send a message to www.plexusnc.com