The epilepsies are a spectrum of brain disorders ranging from severe, life-threatening and disabling, to ones that are much more benign. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness.
The epilepsies have many possible causes and there are several types of seizures. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity—from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development—can lead to seizures.
Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, changes in important features of brain cells called channels, or some combination of these and other factors. Having a single seizure as the result of a high fever (called febrile seizure) or head injury does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy.
Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. A measurement of electrical activity in the brain and brain scans such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography are common diagnostic tests for epilepsy.
Abnormal or excessive firing of the neurons, called neuronal activity, in the brain is the main cause of seizures. The disruption of neuronal activity can cause a variety of reactions from feelings or sensations in the body to involuntary movement.
Epilepsy cannot be cured. Patients whose seizures do not respond to medication can be candidates for surgical treatment of epilepsy. If two or more medications have not eliminated seizures, you may be a candidate for surgery to treat epilepsy.
Many patients go 5, 10 or even 15 years before surgery for epilepsy. You don’t have to wait that long.
UAB Medicine is home to some of the best epilepsy specialists in Birmingham, Alabama. The UAB Epilepsy Center is designated as a Level IV Center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers, the highest designation available.