What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy occurs when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Normally, brain cells communicate by sending electrical signals in a systematic pattern. However, with epilepsy the pattern is disrupted. The signals are sporadic and abnormal, resulting in seizures. These ‘electrical storms’ may be within a specific part of the brain or may be more generalized.

During seizures, neurons fire faster than normal, about 500 times per second, causing involuntary movements and violent muscle spasms. The patient may stare blankly for a few moments. Seizures are a part of epilepsy, but not all seizures are caused by epilepsy.


Types of Epileptic Seizures

Generalized and partial (focal) are two categories of seizures. A generalized seizure affects the entire cerebral cortex, which is the outer portion of the brain. The most common type of generalized seizure is the grand-mal seizure. The patient collapses, becomes unconscious and has uncontrolled muscle spasms for about a minute.

During a partial (focal) seizure, patients remain conscious, and can seem confused. Symptoms include blank staring or chewing repetitively. The cause of epilepsy is not known for about half of all cases. The rest can be linked to a genetic mutation. Some children who are diagnosed with epilepsy have had brain infections. The cause of epilepsy in middle-aged adults can be linked to stroke and tumors.


Epilepsy Treatment

Our team of skilled neurosurgeons offer the best in treatment for epilepsy. While epilepsy has no cure, the condition can be treated and managed effectively by developing the right individualized treatment plan. Treatment for epilepsy will depend on several factors including:

  • Patient’s overall health 
  • Age 
  • Frequency of seizures 
  • Severity of seizures 
  • Medical history

In the majority of cases, epilepsy is treated with medication. Most people with epilepsy can become seizure-free by taking anti-seizure or anti-epileptic medication. In some cases your doctor may discontinue medication after you’re seizure free for at least two years. For other patients, medication may need to be permanent. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment plan.

Finding the right medication and dosage may be a complex process. Epilepsy medications can often have side effects including blurry or double vision, memory problems, fatigue, sleepiness, weight gain and an upset stomach. Your physician will work with you to determine the best treatment.

If you don’t respond well to medication, surgery might be an option. CHI St. Vincent has surgical options including vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) which is an outpatient procedure that helps resolve epilepsy symptoms.


To Make a Referral Call 501.552.6412. For Emergencies, call our 24/7 access phone at 501.552.2727.