What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a long-term brain condition where an individual has repeated seizures, and had affected about 3 in every 100 Australians. Epilepsy is not one single condition, but is range of different conditions which causes these seizures.

If you witness a seizure, you can go to Epilepsy Australia’s seizure first aid resources. Seizures usually last 1 to 3 minutes. If someone has a seizure that lasts for more than 5 minutes, call an ambulance on triple zero (000).

What are the symptoms of epilepsy?

The primary symptom of epilepsy is seizures. The seizures are episodes which happen in the brain. These seizures can cause symptoms such as unusual jerking movements (convulsions), loss of consciousness and also unusual feelings, sensations and behaviours.

There are different types of seizures. Generalise seizures involve the whole brain and may affect the whole body, and focal seizures that involve only part of the brain.

What causes epilepsy?

A major cause of epilepsy is genetics (family history), which play an important role. However, in half of the cases of epilepsy, the cause is unknown.

Epilepsy or seizures can also be caused by anything which causes damage to the brain, which may include the following:

  • Head injury or trauma
  • Stroke or brain haemorrhage
  • Genetic factors
  • Brian malformations or tumours
  • Brain infection or inflammation
  • Brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic drug or alcohol use
  • High or low blood sugars and other biochemical imbalances

However, seizures may not develop for years after the damage to the brain occurs. Please speak to one of our general practitioners at Infinity Health if you have any questions or concerns about any of the possible causes of brain damage.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Epilepsy is diagnosed by your past history of seizures. During a consultation with your general practitioner, you will be asked about any symptoms you may have experience prior to the seizure such as feeling strange or any warning signs. If you cannot remember the seizure, and someone was present and witnessed your seizure, it will be useful to talk to them and ask them what they saw. Your doctor may also do tests which includes blood tests, EEG (electroencephalogram) and brain scans such as CT scan or an MRI.

How is epilepsy treated?

Most people with epilepsy are prescribed antiepileptic medicines which can control the

seizures. The type of antiepileptic therapy required is dependant on factors such as your age and what type of seizures you are having. To avoid other medical problems, most antiepileptic medications require a blood test to make sure the blood levels are not too high or too low.

Many other uses of medicines and activities to treat epilepsy are being explored which include:

  • Ketogenic diet – a strict medically supervised diet used in some children with epilepsy
  • Medical cannabis – some studies have shown to help people control their seizures. It is important to consult with your team of healthcare providers if you wish to explore this treatment.
  • Surgery on the area of the brain causing the seizures
  • Vagus nerve stimulation

It is important to work with your doctor and team of health care providers to discuss the treatments available and how to gain the best control over your seizures.

Can epilepsy be prevented?

The common way to avoid epilepsy is to take the medication needed and to avoid the triggers. These may include:

  • lack of sleep
  • missed or too much antiepileptic medication
  • physical and emotional stress
  • hormonal fluctuations
  • fever
  • allergies
  • menstruation
  • alcohol or drug use
  • flashing lights
  • caffeine
  • missing meals
  • stress
  • being ill or having an infection,
  • vomiting, diarrhea or constipation
  • severe changes in temperature