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Epilepsy
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Epilepsy
NIH

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain sometimes signal abnormally. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity - from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development - can lead to seizures. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, or some combination of these factors. Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. EEGs and brain scans are common diagnostic test for epilepsy.

Is there any treatment?

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. For about 80 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with modern medicines and surgical techniques. Some antiepiletic drugs can interfere with the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. In 1997, the FDA approved the vagus nerve stimulator for use in people with seizures that are not well-controlled by medication.

What is the prognosis?

Most people with epilepsy lead outwardly normal lives. While epilepsy cannot currently be cured, for some people it does eventually go away. Most seizures do not cause brain damage. It is not uncommon for people with epilepsy, especially children, to develop behavioral and emotional problems, sometimes the consequence of embarrassment and frustration or bullying, teasing, or avoidance in school and other social setting. For many people with epilepsy, the risk of seizures restricts their independence (some states refuse drivers licenses to people with epilepsy) and recreational activities. People with epilepsy are at special risk for two life-threatening conditions: status epilepticus and sudden unexplained death. Most women with epilepsy can become pregnant, but they should discuss their epilepsy and the medications they are taking with their doctors. Women with epilepsy have a 90 percent or better chance of having a normal, healthy baby.

What research is being done?

Scientists are studying potential antiepileptic drugs with goal of enhancing treatment for epilepsy. Scientists continue to study how neurotransmitters interact with brain cells to control nerve firing and how non-neuronal cells in the brain contribute to seizures. One of the most-studied neurotransmitters is GABA, or gamma-aminobutryic acid. Researchers are working to identify genes that may influence epilepsy. This information may allow doctors to prevent epilepsy or to predict which treatments will be most beneficial. Doctors are now experimenting with several new types of therapies for epilepsy, including transplanting fetal pig neurons into the brains of patients to learn whether cell transplants can help control seizures, transplanting stem cells, and using a device that could predict seizures up to 3 minutes before they begin. Researchers are continually improving MRI and other brain scans. Studies have show that in some case, children may experience fewer seizures if they maintain a strict diet - called the ketogenic diet - rich in fats and low in carbohydrates.

Organizations

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE)
730 N. Franklin
Suite 404
Chicago, IL 60610
info@CUREepilepsy.org
http://www.CUREepilepsy.org
Tel: 312-255-1801
Fax: 312-255-1809

Epilepsy Foundation
4351 Garden City Drive
Suite 500
Landover, MD 20785-7223
postmaster@efa.org
http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org
Tel: 301-459-3700 800-EFA-1000 (332-1000)
Fax: 301-577-2684

Epilepsy Institute
257 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010
website@epilepsyinstitute.org
http://www.epilepsyinstitute.org
Tel: 212-677-8550
Fax: 212-677-5825

Parents Against Childhood Epilepsy (PACE)
7 East 85th Street
Suite A3
New York, NY 10028
pacenyemail@aol.com
http://www.paceusa.org
Tel: 212-665-PACE (7223)
Fax: 212-327-3075

Family Caregiver Alliance/ National Center on Caregiving
180 Montgomery Street
Suite 1100
San Francisco, CA 94104
info@caregiver.org
http://www.caregiver.org
Tel: 415-434-3388 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

National Council on Patient Information and Education
4915 St. Elmo Avenue
Suite 505
Bethesda, MD 20814-6082
ncpie@ncpie.info
http://www.talkaboutrx.org
Tel: 301-656-8565
Fax: 301-656-4464

National Family Caregivers Association
10400 Connecticut Avenue
Suite 500
Kensington, MD 20895-3944
info@thefamilycaregiver.org
http://www.thefamilycaregiver.org
Tel: 301-942-6430 800-896-3650
Fax: 301-942-2302

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

International RadioSurgery Association (IRSA)
P.O. Box 5186
Harrisburg, PA 17110
getinfo@irsa.org
http://www.irsa.org
Tel: 717-260-9808
Fax: 717-260-9809

Charlie Foundation to Help Cure Pediatric Epilepsy
1223 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite #815
Santa Monica, CA 90403
ketoman@aol.com
http://www.charliefoundation.org
Tel: 800-FOR-KETO (367-5386) 310-395-6751
Fax: 310-393-1978

Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry
MGH East, CNY-149, 10th Floor
149 13th Street
Charlestown, MA 02129-2000
ebaldwin@partners.org
http://www.aedpregnancyregistry.org
Tel: 888-AED-AED4 (233-2334)
Fax: 617-724-8307

National Council on Patient Information and Education
4915 St. Elmo Avenue
Suite 505
Bethesda, MD 20814-6082
ncpie@ncpie.info
http://www.talkaboutrx.org
Tel: 301-656-8565
Fax: 301-656-4464


Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

Last updated October 13, 2005

 

 

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