What Is the Pathophysiology of Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can cause abnormalities in the electrical signals in the brain, so often doctors use an electroencephalogram (EEG) to diagnose it.
People with developmental disorders, such as Down's syndrome may have epilepsy.
Article Details
  • Written By: Sarah Kay Moll
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
External Resources

The pathophysiology of epilepsy affects and can alter the electrical signals in the brain. Epilepsy is a condition where these electrical signals fire randomly, causing seizures. It is typically treated with medication to control the seizures, and in rare cases, surgery.

Seizures are the only symptom of the pathophysiology of epilepsy. Seizures can vary in severity and appearance because different parts of the brain are affected by the electrical signaling. Usually a person will have the same type of seizure each time, but the type of seizure can vary from person to person.

Partial seizures affect only a part of the brain, and can be simple or complex. Simple partial seizures can cause unusual stimuli, such as a strange taste or smell, or may affect a part of the body like the leg, making it jerk uncontrollably. Complex partial seizures cause a loss of consciousness, often accompanied by repetitive and purposeless movements such as walking in circles.

Generalized seizures, on the other hand, affect the entire brain at once. An absence seizure happens when a person "zones out" for a short amount of time, becoming unresponsive and staring. Myoclonic seizures are characterized by muscle jerking in the limbs. Atonic seizures cause a loss of muscle tone, so that a person falls down. The most severe seizures are grand mal seizures, where a person loses consciousness and thrashes around, flailing his or her limbs.

Ad

Often the pathophysiology of epilepsy has an unknown cause. Some types of epilepsy do run in families, suggesting a genetic vulnerability. Brain trauma caused by head injury, diseases like meningitis, or tumors can also cause seizures. Children who suffer prenatal trauma or have a developmental disorder such as Down’s syndrome may also suffer from epilepsy.

The pathophysiology of epilepsy tends to stay within the brain, not affecting the rest of the body. Complications from epilepsy tend to happen when people injure themselves during seizures. It is especially dangerous if a seizure occurs while driving or swimming, but even in a less demanding situation, a person could fall and hurt themselves during an episode.

Epilepsy can cause abnormalities in the electrical signals in the brain, so often doctors use an electroencephalogram (EEG) to diagnose it. An EEG records the electrical signals in the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another way to look into the brain, and this technique is useful for revealing brain injuries that may have caused seizures.

Ad

More from Wisegeek

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

moll
Post 4

@Windchime: I'm so sorry to hear your daughter is ill! This must be very frightening and confusing.

There is some good news, however. Febrile seizures are usually one time events, and not indicative of epilepsy or other chronic conditions.

Here on WiseGeek you can search for "febrile seizures" and find a useful article written by a colleague of mine. If you search Google for "febrile seizures" you will be able to find the Mayo Clinic's website, which is another great source of information written in plain, everyday language.

If the seizure your daughter had was a febrile seizure, there is only a small chance she has epilepsy.

If she does, however, have the condition, I can tell you it is a very manageable and treatable disorder with the right medications. My mother has epilepsy and she is a capable and successful physician. I hope your daughter is feeling better! --Sarah

angelBraids
Post 3

@Windchime - I'm sorry to hear about your daughter being sick. I understand it's a tough time right now, but the best thing you can do is stay calm.

This kind of seizure is generally related to a high fever, brought on by infection, and is a different condition to standard epilepsy. Most young children don't experience this more than once in their childhood.

If you need further reassurance I recommend you contact the Epilepsy Foundation. Their website is an amazing resource for all kinds of information on the subject.

Windchime
Post 2

Last night my young daughter was admitted to hospital with a rash and fever, where she had some kind of bad turn. Right now my mind is spinning with technical information on febrile seizure pathophysiology, which means little to me.

I can't think straight, there are so many questions and worries that I need to ask someone about. The staff are great but I just don't understand half of what they are saying.

Maybe I'm thinking too far ahead but I can't stop worrying that I somehow missed early signs of epilepsy and put my child at risk. What kind of future will she have if this is a permanent condition?

yumdelish
Post 1

Since my dog started having seizures I've been reading a lot about canine epilepsy. It's quite a difficult topic for me, but this article has given me some useful, straightforward information on some of the causes of seizures.

I recently found out that certain breeds of dogs are more likely to have this problem, often without any history of epilepsy in their background. It is hard to watch your pet going through this but I am hopeful that one day medical science will find a way to stop them altogether.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email