Epilepsy awareness is actually celebrated on several days throughout the year with various international bodies trying to educate the public about what epilepsy really is. One of those days is #purpleday, celebrated this year on March 26th. This is so important because the history of epilepsy is anything but pleasant. Before modern medicine, epilepsy was thought to be anything from an evil spirit to a magical curse and treatment was aimed based on these suppositions. Needless to say, things didn’t go very well! With the advancement of science and understanding of anatomy, chemistry and drugs, the understanding of seizures and epilepsy improved. Today I think there is general understanding that it is a medical condition and like any other requires appropriate management, however, too many people still don’t know what a seizure really is and what epilepsy really is. Today I’ll try to increase your understanding and if you want to get your children a comprehensive understanding, make sure they take my class on Shaking, Staring and Twitching!
In our brains work through neurohormonal activity, this means hormones, which are natural chemicals that control many bodily functions, and electricity. These hormones and electrical impulses work together for our brain to be able to send the signals that make everything in our bodies work. Some hormones are excitatory which is as it sounds, creating bursts of signals and impulses that influence muscle activity, amongst other things. Inhibitory hormones, again as the name suggests act to balance these excitatory hormones. Seizures result from a focus or several focuses in the brain that no longer have this balance, causing excessive excitatory activity. This can present in many ways including the most popular known seizure, generalised tonic clonic seizures which present with the sometimes scary intense shaking movements from overly stimulated muscles, from an overly excited brain.
Generalised tonic clonic are just one type of seizure however, because as you can imagine, seizure type would depend on which part and how much of the brain is affected. Seizures that don’t spread across a large portion of the brain may produce focused twitching/irregular movement in a particular body part. Not all seizures affect large muscle groups as the brain doesn’t only control large muscle groups and the absence seizure is a good example of this. With absence seizures, individuals maintain their muscle tone and posture but lose awareness, they therefore look as if they are daydreaming. Different types of seizures present different challenges, tonic clonic seizures can be dangerous and can result in injury as well as starve the brain of oxygen, absence seizures can be completely missed and children often are left behind in school or labelled as developmentally delayed, when this may not be so, as absence seizures alone do not cause delays.
Now seizures can be caused by any number of things such as fever, electrolyte imbalances and trauma, but epilepsy refers to recurrent seizures that may not have a specific identifiable cause. Epilepsy can be difficult to deal with because patients lose control of their bodies which can make one feel quite vulnerable and some activities like swimming or climbing a ladder or driving can sometimes become even less safe than for the general population. While seizure first aid is important to know, general everyday support is just as important. Listen, educate yourself and always try to be whatever support may be needed for those that have seizure disorders.