The term ‘epilepsy’ is derived from the Greek word ‘epilambanein’ , which
signifies to grab, to hold, to seize’. The Ancient Greeks thought of an
epileptic as someone who was seized by a demon. This was also what people
supposed throughout the Middle Ages. But there some who saw an epileptic seizure
as a blessing of a God: e.g. the Ancient Greeks.
Disturbances that occur suddenly and interrupt the normal functioning of the
brains are at the basis of an epileptic seizure. Contrary to what is sometimes
claimed, epilepsy is not a lethal disorder.
Formerly, epileptic people could be unjustifiably found in a psychiatric
institution. Today, epilepsy is no longer associated with insanity. But, in some
cases one can notice problems of disposition or a mentally retardation. Most
epileptics will be able to have a normal life, provided that they take a
(lifelong) adequate medication.
Epilepsy is no disease. It is a symptom. The flue is a disease. One of its
symptoms is a high fever. One of the treatments for the flue is to try to reduce
the fever, etc.
The same is valid for the treatment of epilepsy. The priority will be given
to the reduction of its symptoms: the seizures. In some occasions the
opportunity for surgery might be present itself: the cause could be removed. But
because the cause remains unknown for most epileptic seizures, brain-surgery
will only be a last resort.
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You could imagine an epileptic seizure as follows. Take an ordinary house. We
all have some basic knowledge of the electricity in your own house. Suppose
there is a bad connection between the electricity supply and an electric device.
The device is switched on, with a short circuit as a result. The fuses have done
what they are supposed to and you are in the dark.
It doesn’t take long for you to know what is going on. You will soon be
checking if there isn’t a problem at the fuse box. Most probably you will first
try to find and repair the cause of the short cut. And very soon the fuse will
be switched back on. Problem solved. In the worst possible case, you will need
Let’s take this to the area of the brains. There is also an electric activity
over there. It takes care of the transportation of all kind of data. The
information received by one brain cell is passed through to a series of other
Now, suppose that one or more of these brain cells aren’t working properly –
they have been damaged. The information is well received, but due to the
malfunctioning of these damaged brain cells, this information will be
transmitted with errors. The receiving brain cells that are working properly
will in there turn transfer the wrong data, and so on.
This wrong data is finally transmitted though quite a part of the brain: a
short circuit follows. A seizure of epilepsy is on its way. You will try to
resolve the problem. Either you already know what needs to be done, or you will
have to find an expert, i.e. a neurologist.
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Who can become epileptic ? Can I ? Can my children ? Is it hereditary ?
Everybody is at risk to have epileptic seizures. In general, epilepsy is not
hereditary. Nevertheless, the chance to get it is. The predisposition will be
different from one person to another. If you have any relatives with epilepsy,
Everybody can become epileptic. Epilepsy is not hereditary in general.
However, the chance to get epileptic seizures is hereditary. The predisposition
will always be different from person to person. Predisposition starts when
epilepsy occurs in a family, a far cousin might have it, i.e., which means that
there is a slight chance of you getting epilepsy. But if one of your parents has
epilepsy, then there is a faire possibility that you may have get too. This will
be higher when both parents are epileptic.
But susceptibility does not imply occurrence. One or two things still have
happen. A brain tumour, encephalitis, meningitis, brain injury : these can all
bring seizures about.
Very often the cause of the epileptic seizures will remain unclear. This is
sometimes to the displeasure of most people concerned who are confronted with
it. But there is something far more important. What will always have priority is
the reduction of the severity and the number of the seizures.
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