The Consequences of Epilepsy
Epilepsy: Any of various neurological disorders characterized by sudden recurring attacks of motor, sensory, or psychic malfunction with or without loss of consciousness or convulsive seizures (1).
Is epilepsy a purely physical phenomenon? The question is a complicated one. Put simply, the answer should be yes. The psychological trauma sometimes caused by the seizures, however, makes the answer more complex, along with a more troubling trend. In years past epileptics were classed among the mentally ill, and received the same maltreatment as did that unfortunate group of people. Before that they were perceived as having been possessed by evil spirits. But now, in the modern world, we are free of those ignorant superstitions. Aren't we?
Scientifically, epilepsy is the term under which many seizure disorders are grouped. There are four basic types of seizures: petit mal, tonic-clonic (grand mal), simple partial, and complex partial (2). While petit mal seizures consist merely of a short period of immobility and blank staring, occasionally accompanied by brief loss of awareness, tonic-clonic seizures are much more dramatic (2). Also called grand mal seizures, they involve whole-body muscle contractions, loss of consciousness, temporary cessation of breathing, and involuntary biting of the tongue or cheek (2). The simple and complex partial seizures are calmer; the simple includes muscle contractions of a specific part, abnormal sensations, nausea, sweating, flushed skin, and dilated pupils. The complex partial seizure consists of all these symptoms as well as automatism (repeated motions), inappropriate emotions, changes in personality, altered consciousness, and hallucinations of taste or smell (2).
The causes of epilepsy are varied, and one seizure alone doth not an epileptic make. It is only after a repeated pattern of seizures that epilepsy is diagnosed (3). Epilepsy has multiple possible causes (2). Infections such as encephalitis or meningitis, or even complications from AIDS, may trigger seizures, although these are generally more easily treated (2). Developmental problems or genetic defects present at birth trigger seizures as early on in life as infancy (2). Some problems are inherent to the brain, such as degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, brain injuries, tumors, or brain lesions disrupting normal activity of neurons (2). Others, such as stroke or metabolic problems such as diabetes, have a more indirect effect on the brain's functions (2). Still other epileptics are diagnosed with the mysterious "idiopathic;" causes unknown (2).
Modern medications are quite effective in controlling seizures, and most patients can gain reasonable control over their seizures, or even become seizure-free. Old standbys such as Carbatrol and Phenobarbital are being bolstered by new drugs: Lamictal, Neurontin, Zonegran (4). There are side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, et...