2 minute read


Grand Mal Seizures, Petit Mal Seizures, TreatmentStatus epilepticus

Epilepsy, from the Greek word for seizure, is a recurrent demonstration of a brain malfunction. The outward signs of epilepsy may range from only a slight smacking of the lips or staring into space to a generalized convulsion. It is a condition that can affect anyone, from the very young to adult ages, of both sexes and any race. Epilepsy was described by Hippocrates (c.460-c.377 B.C.), known as the "father of medicine." The incidence of epilepsy, that is, how many people have it, is not known. Some authorities say that up to one-half of 1% of the population are epileptic, but others believe this estimate to be too low. Many cases of epilepsy, those with very subtle symptoms, are not reported. The most serious form of epilepsy is not considered an inherited disease, though parents with epilepsy are more prone to have children with the disease. On the other hand, an epileptic child may have parents that show no sign of the condition, though they will have some abnormal brain waves.

Though the cause of epilepsy remains unknown, the manner in which the condition is demonstrated indicates the area of the brain that is affected. Jacksonian seizures, for example, which are localized twitching of muscles, originate in the frontal lobe of the brain in the motor cortex. A localized numbness or tingling indicates an origin in the parietal lobe on the side of the brain in the sensory cortex.

The recurrent symptoms, then, are the result of localized, excessive discharges of brain cells or neurons. These can be seen on the standard brain test called the electroencephalogram (EEG). For this test electrodes are applied to specific areas of the head to pick up the electrical waves generated by the brain. If the patient experiences an epileptic episode while he is wired to the EEG, the abnormal brain waves can easily be seen and the determination made as to their origin in the brain. Usually, however, if the patient is not experiencing a seizure no abnormalities will be found in the EEG.

A serious form of seizure, status epilepticus indicates a state in which grand mal seizures occur in rapid succession with no period of recovery between them. This can be a life-threatening event because the patient has difficulty breathing and may experience a dangerous rise in blood pressure. This form of seizure is very rare, but can brought on if someone abruptly stops taking the medication prescribed for his epilepsy. It may also occur in alcohol withdrawal.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical Background