What causes seizures, and how can we treat them? - Christopher E. Gaw
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Although all seizures are related to excess electrical activity in the brain, seizures can be quite different from one another. Some people lose consciousness and become limp, while others develop repetitive movements, such as lip-smacking or hand-rubbing. Perhaps the most well-known form of seizure is the ‘grand mal’ seizure, where the whole body stiffens and shakes. Even the onset of a seizure varies from person to person; some experience an unusual sensation or feeling called an aura before a seizure begins while others begin seizing without any warning at all. Seizures can be caused by a variety of medical conditions including electrolyte abnormalities, head trauma, toxins, infections, or genetic mutations. Sometimes the cause of a person’s seizures is unknown. For people who have recurrent seizures, they may be diagnosed with epilepsy, or a seizure disorder.
We highlighted in the lesson a couple of key advances in neuroscience that improved our understanding of seizures. As with most scientific discoveries, there were many other scientists and physicians who helped improve our understanding of seizures and epilepsy over the centuries. Over time, medicine has used this knowledge to develop a wide array of treatment options for individuals with seizures. We highlighted medications, known as anti-epileptic drugs, and neurosurgery in our lesson. Seizure medications can be quite complex—for those interested, you can learn more about them here. Other treatments for seizures include vagal nerve stimulators and special diets, such as the ketogenic diet. Check out this video for those interested in a higher-level overview of the pathophysiology, symptoms, and treatments for seizures.
Given how common seizures are in society, it is possible that you might encounter someone having a seizure. Many people have also seen films or TV shows portraying seizures. It is important to realize, however, that media depictions of seizures may not demonstrate correct first aid. To help someone having a seizure, remember the steps highlighted in the lesson—stay, safe, side. Additional details on first aid for someone having a seizure can be found in this video from the Epilepsy Foundation.
Throughout history, people with seizures have faced prejudice and discrimination. From the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, it was thought that seizures were contagious, and people with seizures were ostracized. In the United States, up through the mid-20th century, some states had laws forbidding people with epilepsy to marry. Others found it difficult to find jobs because it was thought that responsibility and stress would cause them to have seizures. These misconceptions are not true. Recognizing and debunking common seizure myths is important to help destigmatize this common condition.
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