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Epilepsy Essay

2867 words - 11 pages


Epilepsy is a very common neurological disorder. Some reports estimate that five in one-thousand people suffer from this problem. Throughout history, people with epilepsy have been shunned or considered inferior. Even today, ignorance leads many people to treat the epileptic as "abnormal" or "retarded". Although the etiology of epilepsy is still not fully understood, it is quite treatable due to advances in modern medicine.

Epilepsy is characterized by uncontrolled excessive activity of either a part of, or all of the central nervous system. A person who is predisposed to epilepsy has attacks when the basal level of excitability of the nervous system rises above a certain critical threshold. As long as the degree of excitability is held below this threshold, no attack occurs. Basically, epilepsy can be classified into three major types: grand mal, petit mal, and focal or partial epilepsy.

Grand mal epilepsy is characterized by extreme neuronal discharges in all areas of the brain: in the cortex, in the deeper parts of the cerebrum, and even in the brain stem and thalamus. Also, discharges into the spinal cord cause generalized tonic convulsions of the entire body, followed toward the end of the attack by alternating tonic and then spasmodic muscular contractions called tonic-clonic convulsions. Often the person bites or "swallows" the tongue and usually has difficulty in breathing, sometimes to the extent of developing cyanosis. Also, signals to the viscera frequently cause urination and defecation. The grand mal seizures lasts from a few seconds to as long as three to four minutes and is characterized by post-seizure depression of the entire nervous system; the person remains in stupor for one to many minutes after the attack is over and then often remains severely fatigued or even asleep for many hours thereafter. During these seizures, high-voltage, synchronous discharges occur over the entire cortex. Furthermore, the same type of discharge occurs on both sides of the brain at the same time, showing that the abnormal neuronal circuitry responsible for the attack strongly involves the basal regions of the brain that drive the cortex. In humans, grand mal attacks can be initiated by administering neuronal stimulants, such as the drug Metrazol, or they can be caused by insulin hypoglycemia or by the passage of alternating electrical current directly through the brain. Electrical recordings from the thalamus and also from the reticular formation of the brain stem during the grand mal attack show typical high-voltage activity in both of these areas similar to that recorded from the cerebral cortex. Presumably, therefore, a grand mal attack is caused by abnormal activation in the lower parts of the brain activating system itself.

Most persons who have grand mal attacks have a hereditary predisposition to epilepsy. In such persons, some of the factors that can increase the excitability of the abnormal "epileptogenic"...

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