Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Another brain related topic to recently catch the attention of the popular press is the association between epilepsy (seizure disorder) and sudden death. Again, this is not really news because the risks associated with seizures have been well known for years.

First of all, what is epilepsy? It’s the condition when a person has chronic recurring seizures, or a seizure disorder. Okay, so what’s a seizure? It’s what happens when a part of the brain has a period abnormal activity. Picture a large auditorium full of students, all of them busy with taking an exam. Suddenly, one guy jumps up and shouts for a few seconds. Everyone stops what they’re doing and looks at him. He’s disruptive, but if everyone ignores him and goes back to work, not much happens. If this were an area in the brain it would be the equivalent of a small, focal seizure. If, on the other hand, all the other students follow his lead, pandemonium results until either someone stops it or they just get tired and go back to work. This is the equivalent of a generalized seizure. The reasons some neurons develop this kind of abnormal activity are multiple and can range from metabolic problems to scar tissue that is the result of damage, such as a small stroke.

Just how a seizure effects a person depends upon what brain circuits are involved. A very short seizure within the centers for consciousness may appear as only a brief blank stare. One involving motor control centers may result in arm and leg jerking. A seizure that storms through the area regulating the heart rate can cause cardiac arrest and death. This catastrophic effect is, fortunately, very rare. The majority of people with seizure disorders live normal lives.

There are numerous prescription drugs that can help control seizures. And for some patients whose seizures are the result of a small scar on the brain surface, surgery can remove the seizure-producing tissue.

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