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Epilepsy, Seizure and Stroke 

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Epilepsy and Autism

image014Epilepsy is defined as a disorder in the brain which causes repeated seizures or convulsions due to a brain activity disturbance. However, not all seizures involve convulsions; some may only cause behavior or attention changes. Seizures occur when the neurons in the brain are overloaded or disturbed, causing an imbalance in brain activity. Several of these brain abnormalities, according to experts, are associated with autism and may be potential causes of epileptic seizures.

In addition to the above definition, seizures may also be defined as an abnormal or uncontrolled electrical activity found in the brain. This activity may produce a combination of symptoms, minor physical signs, disruption in thought patterns, or physical convulsions.

Symptoms of Epilepsy and the Types of Seizures

Unlike many autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy can go unnoticed for several years. In fact, it is not diagnosed until at least two seizures have been documented. Two percent of the general population are known to have epilepsy between ages thirteen and seventeen. Within that two percent, thirty percent are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Regardless of age and other conditions, typical signs of epilepsy include:

  • Unexplained staring spells.
  • Tingling, numbness or feelings of electricity in part of the body.
  • Jerking movements of an arm, leg, or body and facial twitching
  • Unexplained confusion, sleepiness, weakness
  • Severe headaches
  • Sleeping disturbances
  • Indescribable irritability and aggressiveness
  • Sudden regression in normal development

The latter three symptoms tend to be less common than the rest, since they are more difficult diagnose. However, if anyone is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, despite their age, they should seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Epilepsy, like autism, varies widely in severity. The following types of seizures listed below are some of the most common types:

Generalized Seizures Symptoms
  1. Gran mal, or tonic-clonic
Unconsciousness, convulsions, muscle rigidity
  1. Petit mal, or absence
Brief loss of consciousness
  1. Myoclonic
Sporadic, jerking of upper body
  1. Clonic
Repetitive, jerking movements
  1. Tonic
Muscle stiffness
  1. Atonic
Sudden limpness or Loss of muscle tone

Tests and Treatment

image015It is not always easy to tell when a child or adult is having a seizure. In the event that a parent or guardian recognizes the occurrence of a seizure, medical evaluation by a neurologist should be sought. Once at the neurologist’s office, an EEG (or electroencephalogram) will be conducted to view all of the electrical activity occurring in the brain and determine if any recent or current activity is deemed abnormal.

Fortunately, it is possible to receive treatment to help reduce the likelihood of suffering from epileptic seizures. These treatments may involve the use of medication, changes in lifestyle, or a potential surgery.

  • Anti-epileptic drugs have been created to help prevent or minimize seizures. In fact, epilepsy drugs have been noted to eliminate seizures in nearly two-thirds of those with epilepsy. When a person suffers from a more severe form of epilepsy, they may need to take two or more medications.
  • If epilepsy drugs prove to be unsuccessful, doctor’s may suggest surgery to do one of the following:
    1. Identify and remove the abnormal brain cells responsible for the seizures.
    2. Insert a vagus nerve stimulator (which is designed similar to a heart pacemaker) in order to reduce the number and frequency of the seizures.
  • Changing to a diet low in carbohydrates, such as the Atkins diet, may help reduce seizures in some adults. The most common diet followed for controlling seizures is the ketogenic diet, which encourages additional intake of healthy fats.

Epilepsy and Strokes

Those diagnosed with epilepsy are more likely to suffer from seizures after having a stroke. Some who have never had any seizure or been diagnosed as epileptic may have an onset of the condition after having a stroke. If a patient suffers from stroke-induced epilepsy, anti-seizure medications may be able to help treat the condition.

References

Megdad M. Zaatreh, MD, Special to Everyday Health. (2014). The Epilepsy-Autism Link: A Brain Misfire That Causes Social Challenges.

Autism Speaks. (2014). Autism and Epilepsy Resources.

Laura Geggel. (2013). Risk of epilepsy in autism tied to age, intelligence.