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A number of drugs are available for the treatment of epilepsy. The oldest is phenobarbital, which has the unfortunate side effect of being addictive. Other drugs currently on the market are less addictive, but all have the possibility of causing untoward side effects such as drowsiness or nausea or dizziness.

The epileptic patient needs to be protected from injuring himself during an attack. Usually for the patient having a petit mal seizure, little needs to be done. Occasionally these individuals may lose their balance and need to be helped to the ground to avoid hitting their head, but otherwise need little attention. The individual in a grand mal seizure should not be restrained, but may need to have some help to avoid his striking his limbs or head on the floor or nearby obstruction. If possible, roll the patient onto his side. This will maintain an open airway for him to breathe by allowing his tongue to fall to one side.

Epilepsy is a recurrent, lifelong condition that must be reckoned with. Medication can control seizures in a substantial percentage of patients, perhaps up to 85% of those with grand mal manifestations. Some patients will experience seizures even with maximum dosages of medication. These individuals need to wear an identification bracelet to let others know of their condition. Epilepsy is not a reflection of insanity or mental retardation in any way. In fact, many who experience petit mal seizures are of above-average intelligence.

See also Anticonvulsants.



Ziegleman, David. The Pocket Pediatrician. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1995.


Glanz, J. "Do Chaos-Control Techniques Offer Hope for Epilepsy?" Science 265 (August 26, 1994): 1174.

Larry Blaser


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—The outer layer of the brain.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

—An electronic medical instrument used to measure brain activity in the form of waves; results of the test are printed on paper and are analyed by physicians.

Frontal lobe

—A portion of the brain that controls planning, problem solving, and writing. Broca's area (the part of the brain that coordinates the movements of muscles used in speech) is located in the frontal lobe.

Motor cortex

—Part of the cortex that controls the actions of the extremities, such as moving one's hand away from a heat source.


—Cell specialized to receive and transmit impulses; functional unit of the nervous system

Sensory cortex

—Part of the cortex that receives signals from peripheral nerves to indicate the presence of excessive heat, for example, and the need to move.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical BackgroundEpilepsy - Grand Mal Seizures, Petit Mal Seizures, Treatment - Status epilepticus