About epilepsy

Epilepsy is a rather widespread disease. Approximately 0.3% of the population suffer from it. Frequently, there are people among our acquaintances, relatives or friends who also suffer from that disease.

Notwithstanding today’s treatment possibilities, there is a common belief that it is an incurable disease or that there is no significant help for the patients. People consider that epilepsy is expressed only as falling on the ground with the accompanying convulsions and foam from the mouth. Epilepsy’s forms, which occur without convulsions, are not recognised as such quite frequently, as well as loss of consciousness similar to fainting. Childhood absence epilepsy is not identified as such frequently. They are characterised by short-time loss of consciousness, torpor, failure to follow the ongoing processes.

Those phenomena are observed by family members or teachers, but they are explained as inattentiveness, “dreaminess”.

Epilepsy can also appear as singular behavioural fits, inadequate emotional manifestations. It is possible to observe sudden rage, aggressive attacks, which are not typical for the person, sudden shouting, laughing or attacks on surrounding people. People having such seizures do not comprehend their inadequacy, and often do not consider them a disease and do not turn to a specialist. I have had many such cases in my practice. One of most prominent examples is a girl who shouted loudly during fits. That often occurred at school, but, as she felt that the fit was near, she ran out of class to lavatory and locked herself up, until the fit was over. The girl was considered mentally ill and sent to a psychiatrist. Investigating that fit using the method of electroencephalography, it was discovered that there was a pathological focus in the brain, and anti-epileptic medication was prescribed. The fits have completely disappeared; the child laughs, dances in an ensemble and feels quite fit.

The second example is a young man, who became aggressive during fits – attacked the surrounding people, broke house windows. He was quite ashamed of those actions, took medication, as a result of which the fits became less frequent.

Temporary loss of consciousness is frequently confused with fainting. In particular, mothers tell about their teenage children that they have fainted. Besides, speaking about youngsters, photo-sensitive epilepsy caused by flickering light occurring in their environment occurs among them. Monotonous flickering light at discotheques, roadside bar flickering in front of the eyes when going by car, flashing of electric lights in supermarkets can cause an unconsciousness fit.

An epileptic fit in adults for the first time in one’s life is a very serious signal about a brain disorder. It could be the only symptom of the brain tumour or cerebral vascular entanglement. Epilepsy could also by a complication after a head trauma, stroke, acute poisoning, after several days of alcohol consumption. In all cases when the person suffers a fit with or without loss of consciousness, with or without cramps, sudden inadequate behaviour, or perception or thought disorders, correct diagnostics and treatment are necessary.

The diagnostics of epilepsy are based on nuclear magnetic resonance investigations, which allow to discover changes in the brain, as well as electroencephalography – for the identification and localisation of the disease focus. In more complicated cases, electroencephalographic investigations with long-term video observation are utilised. If it becomes possible to particularise the diagnosis, treatment is necessary, selecting modern medicines and their rational combination. It must be remembered that the use of medicines produces much less side effects compared to fits, which occur when a person does not take medicines.

Pregnant women, suffering from epilepsy, frequently reject medication. This is not a correct solution. Correctly prescribed anti-epileptic drugs, which prevent fits, are much less harmful for the child than the fits during pregnancy, which could cause oxygen starvation in the foetus and possible trauma.

If someone in your family or around you suffers from epilepsy or fits that you cannot understand, contact a neurologist, explain the symptoms in detail and receive a referral for MRI and EEG investigations; that will help to identify the disease. Medicines are generally available for the treatment of epilepsy; they are included in the list of reimbursable medicines.

Be treated and be healthy!

Neurologist Ilona Puriņa, MD

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