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What Is Epilepsy?

Learn what epilepsy is from Steve Wolf, MD and Patty McGoldrick, NP in this Howcast video.

Transcript

Epilepsy are people who have seizures, but first what is a seizure? Seizure is a short-circuit in the brain; too much electricity getting out of control spreading throughout the brain causing the body either to shake, jerk, fall to the ground, stare, zone out, look drunk, and are unusual. But seizures can be from one part of the brain or they can be the whole brain lighting up at once. We describe them as a big burst of electricity in the brain that causes these symptoms. And what it stems from are the neurons being hyper-excited so that they can't control the impulses of the electricity that is moving through them. Certain seizures as you said can manifest themselves in different ways; they can be just jerking, they can be a drop; they can be a stare. The problem is trying to figure out where the seizures come from and what causes the seizures. So we know that a trauma to the brain can cause a scar; shaking the brain, a bleed; a stroke can cause seizures; and then many people can have seizures for absolutely no reason. Again the epilepsy doesn't occur from seizures that are caused by something; so if have a child who has febrile seizures that's not epilepsy. If you have one seizure as the result of a head injury, that's not epilepsy. Epilepsy is repetitive seizures over time. So if someone starts having seizures it is important to work them up properly. Right. So you start with managing them acutely; obviously if they are having a long seizure you have to treat them with medication so it stops because they can injure the brain if they have long seizures. And you would start by doing an EEG which looks at the electricity in the brain; you would do an MRI or a cat scan and then go on from there with more tests. So the MRI looks at the structure of the brain, helps to eliminate all the bad things, like whether a stroke is causing the seizure, a turmor is causing the seizure, an abnormal blood vessel, something like that, something that formed abnormall in the brain in utero; there are things called migrational abnormalities so part of the brain formed abnormally. The EEG will tell us what type of seizure it is possibly. And then we do other tests like pet scans that look at the metabolism of the brain but that's usually not commonly used at the initial diagnoses. So epilepsy is that you've had more than one seizure, we know what the cause is, sometimes we don't know what the cause is, and it's repetitive events that hopefully can be treated with medication.

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