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Epilepsy

Famous People Who Had Epilepsy:

  • Socrates
  • Alexander the Great
  • Julius Caesar
  • Alfred Nobel
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Thomas Edison

Understanding Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that is characterized by recurrent seizures. Although a seizure is a symptom of epilepsy, not all people who have seizures have epilepsy.

Seizures occur when there's a sudden change in the normal way your brain cells communicate. During a seizure, some brain cells become too excited like an "electrical storm." This may result in temporary changes that affect awareness, movement or sensation.

  • Epilepsy is relatively common, affecting 0.5 to 1.0 percent of the population.
  • In the United States, about two million people have epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy may occur at any age.

Symptoms of Epilepsy

A seizure can result from the sudden occurrence of any abnormal activity in your brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Temporary confusion
  • Complete loss of consciousness
  • A staring spell
  • Muscle spasms
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms or legs
  • Changes in any of the five senses: taste, vision, smell, hearing and touch

Causes of Epilepsy

Seizures can be provoked or unprovoked.

  • Provoked seizures have a specific cause.
    • In children, the cause may be disease, injury to the brain, infection, certain genetic disorders, chemical imbalance, nutritional imbalance and/or fever.
    • In adults, in addition to the above, possible causes include stroke, heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumor, scar tissue from brain surgery, complications from kidney and/or liver disease, diabetes, and alcoholism.
  • Unprovoked seizures occur for no apparent reason.

Epilepsy is not a mental disease and does not cause mental retardation.

When You Should See Your Doctor

If you are experiencing seizures or other potential symptoms of epilepsy, you should be evaluated by a doctor, especially if:

  • A seizure lasts more than five minutes
  • Recovery from the seizure is slow
  • A second seizure follows immediately
  • You are pregnant
  • Signs of injury or illness are present
  • Seizures change in frequency
  • Changes occur in the way you feel during and after seizures
  • Seizure medication has changed or you begin to take other medications

Diagnosing Epilepsy

MidMichigan Health's Neuroscience Institute has neurologists who can work with your physician to determine the type of seizures you are experiencing and their cause. Your doctor or specialist may use one or more of the following screening methods:

  • Medical history which includes descriptions of seizures
  • Physical and neurological examination
  • Blood tests
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Treatment for Epilepsy

Medications

About 70 percent of people with epilepsy can become free of their seizures with anti-epileptic medications. For others, medications can make seizures less frequent and intense.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Vagus Nerve Stimulation offers an effective and ground-breaking way to control seizures for patients who have been unsuccessful with medications. A small surgically implanted device sends regular pulses of electrical energy to prevent or interrupt disturbances in the brain. MidMichigan has a team of board-certified neurologists and neurosurgeons familiar with this procedure.

To learn whether this therapy may be right for you, you may also wish to visit the website of Cyberonics®, the Vagus Nerve Stimulator manufacturer.


Other Treatment Methods

Other treatment methods may be appropriate, either as an alternative to or in addition to medication. A MidMichigan neurologist, working together with your primary doctor, can help determine what is right for you. For helpful tips on talking to your doctor about treatment alternatives, visit this page on the Epilepsy Foundation® website.