What is not epilepsy?Bernice Clark ▼ | Wednesday May 20, 2009 6:01PM ET
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder caused by the abnormal activities in brain cells which causes recurring seizures. There are several types of epilepsy, each with different symptoms, causes and treatments. Any seizure is a cause for concern. However, the patients who experienced seizures do not necessary have epilepsy. Just as headache is a symptom and brain tumour and encephalitis are diseases, that's how the seizure is just one symptom and epilepsy is a disorder. Thus, the patient must undergo a number of tests, neurological examinations and scans for epilepsy to be diagnosed.
There are few conditions in which seizure(s) may not be associated with epilepsy. Those are febrile convulsions, encephalitis, brain contusion, stroke and metabolic disorder.
Febrile convulsions appear very often, about five times more frequently than epilepsy. Small children may have one or several grand mal seizures which outgrow by the time they start to go to school. Although febrile convulsions definitively don't mean epilepsy, both share same mutual characteristics and today many doctors equalize febrile convulsions with epilepsy syndromes. Long-term use of anticonvulsant drugs in children may damage the developing brain or cause other detrimental side effects.
Brain inflammations (meningitis and encephalitis) often cause few epileptic seizures that are caused by inflammatory and chemical impulses in the brain or spinal cord.
Brain contusion is often followed by seizures as one of the symptoms which later disappear. So called posttraumatic epilepsy (PTE) appears as the result of severe, sometimes even mild head trauma. Posttraumatic epilepsy may appear one week after the head trauma, or even after seven or more years.
Stroke is often followed with seizures and the outcome is similar to brain contusion.
Metabolic disorders (calcium and other electrolyte deficiency, low level of sugar, kidney and liver severe conditions) can also cause epileptic seizures.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) is the test that measures and records brain's electrical activity. It is the most important test in epileptology and in diagnosis of many other diseases. EEG can detect the type of the epileptic seizure and confirm epilepsy. However, EEG is not almighty. The reason for that lies in the fact that borders of what we call "normal" and "abnormal" are very wide. In patients with epilepsy EEG may show normal results, and abnormal in healthy patients. That stands true especially when it comes to children and the interpretations of their test results.
Distinguishing between true epileptic seizures and nonepileptic events can be very difficult. It requires a thorough medical assessment, careful monitoring, and experienced health professionals. Since every seizure is certainly cause for concern, seek medical advice if you experience a seizure for the first time. Don't hesitate to ask for medical help if the second seizure occurs immediately after the first; if breathing or consciousness does not return after the seizure stops; the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if you are pregnant and have diabetes. ■