About Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a collective name for symptoms which indicate a functional disorder of the brain. It is not a disease, but a symptom, such as a fever. Epilepsy expresses itself in seizures. These seizures are caused by a disruption in the electrical brain activity. The symptoms are dependent on the area of  the brain where the activity is disrupted. Sometimes the patient is conscious, but in many cases the consciousness is disturbed during seizures.

Types of epileptic seizures

There are three main types of seizures which can be identified:

  • The generalised tonic clonic seizure involves full body spasm (tonic), in which the patient is unconscious. The spasm is followed by rhythmic shocks (clonic) of the limbs and head. Injuries are often caused by the fall or from biting on the tongue or cheek. 
  • The absence seizure involves reduced consciousness for a few seconds. Sometimes the eyes roll or the patient collapses.
  • The complex partial seizure involves reduced consciousness in combination with involuntary movements. The patient may grope and rub their hands, walk around and or make lip-smacking and swallowing movements. These seizures usually last longer than an absence seizure.

Causes of epilepsy

Epilepsy can have various causes. In about a quarter of patients the predisposition for epilepsy is already present at birth. Sometimes it is a genetic predisposition, but it can also occur spontaneously. In about half of patients the cause is known, such as brain damage during birth, inflammation of the brain or meningitis, or brain damage caused by (traffic) accidents. Epilepsy in the elderly is often caused by a stroke or tumour.