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Epilepsy : Fact and fiction

(Photo: Jordan News)
Our brain is arguably the most complex organ in our body. To date, the depth of its function is still not well understood. Its complexity allows us to perform all conscious actions and thoughts. Unfortunately, with the complexity come many disorders that ail the brain. اضافة اعلان

One of the most prevalent conditions with serious physical manifestations are seizures. There are many causes of seizures but if the causes are unknown, you may be diagnosed with epilepsy.

What are seizures?

The brain is a big bundle of nerves that uses electric current to communicate. These electrical impulses send messages to all parts of the brain as well as down the spinal cord to communicate with the rest of the body. In some people, one or more parts of brain may, in a sense, short circuit and cause a burst of abnormal electrical signals. This abnormal burst interferes with normal signals and results in a seizure.

Seizures may often be a symptom, rather than a condition. Seizures can occur in those with high-grade fevers, high or low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or as the result of a concussion.

If the cause of the seizure is known, and the underlying condition is resolved, it is unlikely that a seizure would occur again. However, in some cases, the cause of the seizures is unknown, and this may meet the classification of epilepsy.
Seizures can occur in those with high-grade fevers, high or low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or as the result of a concussion.

Definitions of epilepsy may vary slightly around the world but generally epilepsy is defined as two seizures without a known cause occurring more than 24 hours apart.

Types of seizures and epilepsy

Many people have a general idea of what seizures look like, but seizures can come in a variety of forms. For those with epilepsy, understanding the type of seizures that can occur is important in order to explain to others.

Generally speaking, there are four classifications of epilepsy: focal, generalized, mixed, and unknown. There are also subtypes of focal and generalized, which affect how the seizures manifest.

Focal epilepsy

Focal seizures, also known as partial seizures, occur when the abnormal impulses are limited to a specific area within one brain hemisphere. There are two subtypes of focal seizures: focal seizures with retained awareness and focal seizures with loss of awareness. Focal seizures with retained awareness were previously known as simple partial seizures. The manifestations of this type of seizure vary in different people, but can include motor changes, such as twitches or convulsions, sensory changes, such as a tingling sensation, as well as autonomic changes, such as sweating and rapid heart rate.

If you meet someone with this condition, it is likely that they can tell you the signs of their seizures because they are aware of what is happening.

Focal seizures with a loss of awareness, on the other hand, may be harder to describe and have the potential to be life threatening. The manifestations of focal seizures with loss of awareness, previously known as complex partial seizures, are similar to those of simple partial seizures, but because the person is unaware of their surroundings, it can result in dangerous situations, such as walking into traffic.

If you or someone you know has this type of epilepsy, it is important to understand its manifestations as quickly as possible in order to better keep safe.

In Jordan, simple partial seizures account for 14.4 percent of total epileptics and complex partial seizures account for 32.6 percent.

Generalized epilepsy

Generalized seizures occur when the abnormality is widespread and affects both sides of the brain. Generalized seizures have six subtypes of seizures: absence, tonic-clonic, atonic, clonic, tonic, and myoclonic.

Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as convulsion seizures or grand mal seizures, are the most common and most are familiar with. In Jordan, grand mal seizures account for 22.8 percent of total epileptics and is characterized by loss of consciousness and violent muscle spasms. Absence seizures, also known as petit mal seizures, are more subtle in their manifestations. Most people with petit mal seizures will seem to stare out into nothing or blank out. This type of seizure is most common in children and usually occurs between the ages of 4 and 14.

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Petit mal seizures are not as dangerous as other types, especially long-term, but because manifestations may be subtle, the seizures may go unnoticed. If left untreated, it is possible to have up to 100 seizures a day and in Jordan, 7.1 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy have petit mal.

Myoclonic seizures are the third most common type of generalized epilepsy (7.1 percent). This form manifests are jerks or muscle twitches, but the person usually remains conscious. Myoclonic seizures are not particularly dangerous, but due to the unpredictability of it, there should still be precautions. If a person is holding something and a jerk occurs, it is likely that whatever is being held would be dropped.

Atonic seizures, also known as drop attacks, results in a sudden loss of muscle strength throughout the body. The main concern with atonic seizures is the potential fall that may occur, which may result in injury. Tonic and clonic seizures are similar to grand mal seizures. Tonic means prolonged muscle contractions and clonic means rhythmic jerking.

Myths about seizures and epilepsy

There are many myths surrounding seizures that can affect an individual living with epilepsy. The attitudes toward seizures and epileptics vary greatly, but in Jordan there seems to be a negative social stigma surrounding this condition.

One study found that 38.3 percent of Jordanians believe that epileptics are less intelligent than the average person and 9.3 percent believe that they are insane. In fact, the intellectual capacity is the same as of any other person, but it may be more difficult to concentrate in school due to their condition.

Similarly, 42.7 percent reported that they would not work with an epileptic and an additional 56.3 percent reported that if they were an employer, they would not hire an epileptic.
The attitudes toward seizures and epileptics vary greatly, but in Jordan there seems to be a negative social stigma surrounding this condition.

Given the proper treatment, most epileptics can be free of seizures entirely. There may be some liability in certain career choices, but generally speaking, if a person is on the proper treatment, they can be indistinguishable from the average person.

When it comes to first aid, there are also myths, many of which can cause harm to the individual or yourself. One of the most common is placing something, such as a towel, in the mouth of the afflicted to prevent them from swallowing their tongue. This myth is especially dangerous to both involved. Firstly, an individual having a seizure cannot swallow their tongue, but the object placed in their mouth may cause choking. Secondly, forcibly trying to insert something in the person’s mouth while the person has a seizure may result in injury to the jaw or teeth. Lastly, the individual having a seizure is not in control of their muscles which relax and contract. By placing your fingers inside the person’s mouth, they could bite your finger and not be able to release for a period of time.

Similarly, it is also a myth that you should restrain someone who is having a seizure. This will only bring harm to yourself or the individual. The only course of action is to make sure the area around them is safe and remain with them until the seizure stops. If the person is a known epileptic, it is not necessary to call 911, but if it is the first time or the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, be sure to call 911.

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