VIII48 Epilepsy

Epilepsy is characterized by the repeated occurrence of seizures that result from recurrent, abnormal, excessive, synchronous discharges of populations of cerebral neurons (Epilepsy Foundation of America 1981). It has a worldwide distribution and probably has been in existence since the dawn of human history. The condition is chronic but rarely fatal, and most types of epilepsy do not disturb the affected individual's desire or ability to lead a normal life. Modern antiepileptic medications most often control seizures, and the limitations imposed by the disorder may be negligible. Unfortunately, epileptics are all too frequently stigmatized and excluded from many activities of daily life. Outdated beliefs and misconceptions about epilepsy have only recently shown signs of lessening in the United States and other industrialized societies.

It is misleading to think of epilepsy as one disease. There are many causes of this symptom cluster, just as there are for the symptom cluster of nausea and vomiting. A better term would be "the epilepsies." The epilepsies do, however, share certain physiological characteristics. Clusters of neurons in some parts of the brain begin to discharge impulses in a disorganized fashion. The parts of the body controlled by the affected neurons respond with disorganized activity such as convulsions or tremors, or by loss of normal function such as loss of consciousness, paralysis of a limb, or localized numbness. The condition is also chronic, marked by the recurrence of seizures. By monitoring the brain with electrodes, an electroen-cephalographer can often detect abnormal brain waves, either localized in one part of the brain or coming from all parts at once.

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