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Createdon: 17 Mar 2023
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Author: Khoa Tran
Published Mar 17, 2023
Updated Jun 29, 2023

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Etymology and Pronunciation

Epilepsy (eh-puh-lep-see)
epilepsia (ἐπιληψία) - Greek for "seizure" or "to seize"


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, which can range from mild to severe and can affect various parts of the body.

The ancient Egyptians were the first to describe epilepsy as a neurological disorder, and they believed that it was caused by the gods.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed that epilepsy was a disorder of the brain and not a result of possession by evil spirits. He noted that people with epilepsy often experienced changes in consciousness and that the symptoms of the disorder could be traced to the brain. Hippocrates recognized that seizures could be triggered by physical factors, such as head trauma or illness, and that they were not the result of supernatural causes.

During the Middle Ages, epilepsy was still believed to be caused by evil spirits or demonic possession, and people with epilepsy were often shunned and feared. 

In 1681, Thomas Willis, an English physician, described epilepsy as a disorder of the brain, and in 1776, Francois Boissier de Sauvages, a French physician, published the first comprehensive classification of epilepsy. He is credited with many important discoveries related to the brain and nervous system, including the first description of the circle of Willis, a crucial arterial circle at the base of the brain. Willis believed that epilepsy was a disorder of the brain based on his observations of the symptoms and behavior of people with epilepsy. He noted that seizures were often preceded by changes in consciousness and that the symptoms of epilepsy were similar to those of other neurological conditions. He also believed that epilepsy was caused by an imbalance of the body's humors, which were thought to regulate health and disease at the time. Furthermore, Willis conducted experiments on animals to better understand the brain's role in the disorder. He experimented with the removal of specific brain regions in animals, which resulted in seizures similar to those seen in people with epilepsy. These experiments led him to conclude that epilepsy was a disorder of the brain.

In 1873, Richard Caton, a British physiologist, was the first to record electrical activity in the brain using an electroencephalogram (EEG). This led to further research into the electrical activity of the brain and the discovery of abnormal brain waves in people with epilepsy.

In the 1920s, the ketogenic diet was developed as a treatment for epilepsy, and in the 1930s, phenobarbital was introduced as the first effective anti-epileptic medication.

In the 1950s, the first surgical treatments for epilepsy were developed, and in the 1970s, the first video-EEG monitoring systems were introduced, allowing for better diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy.

Modern Understanding

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures that result from abnormal electrical activity in the brain. There are several types of epilepsy, each with unique characteristics and causes. Understanding the different types of epilepsy is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

1. Focal epilepsy: Focal epilepsy, also known as partial epilepsy, is the most common type of epilepsy. It is characterized by seizures that originate in one specific part of the brain. Focal seizures can be further classified into two subtypes:
	- Simple partial seizures: These seizures do not affect awareness or memory and typically last less than a minute. Symptoms may include involuntary jerking, sensory changes, or abnormal smells or tastes.
	- Complex partial seizures: These seizures can affect awareness and memory and may last longer than simple partial seizures. Symptoms may include staring, confusion, and repetitive movements.

2. Generalized epilepsy: Generalized epilepsy is characterized by seizures that involve both sides of the brain. This type of epilepsy can be further classified into several subtypes:
	- Absence seizures: Also known as petit mal seizures, absence seizures are characterized by brief periods of staring and may be mistaken for daydreaming. These seizures usually last less than 15 seconds.
	- Tonic seizures: Tonic seizures cause sudden muscle stiffness, which can result in falls or other injuries.
	- Atonic seizures: Atonic seizures, also known as drop attacks, cause sudden loss of muscle tone and can result in falls or other injuries.
	- Clonic seizures: Clonic seizures cause rhythmic jerking movements in the face, neck, and arms.
	- Myoclonic seizures: Myoclonic seizures cause sudden, brief jerking movements that can affect one or both sides of the body.

3. Reflex epilepsy: Reflex epilepsy is a rare type of epilepsy that is triggered by specific stimuli, such as flashing lights or loud noises. The seizures are usually generalized and may occur within seconds of exposure to the trigger.

4. Lennox-Gastaut syndrome: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy that usually begins in childhood. It is characterized by multiple seizure types, including tonic seizures, atonic seizures, and absence seizures.

5. Dravet syndrome: Dravet syndrome is a rare, genetic form of epilepsy that begins in infancy. It is characterized by frequent, prolonged seizures that are often triggered by fever or hot temperatures.

6. Epilepsy with myoclonic-astatic seizures (EMAS): EMAS is a rare type of epilepsy that is characterized by myoclonic and atonic seizures, as well as developmental delays and other neurological problems.

7. Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy: Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is a type of epilepsy that usually begins in adolescence. It is characterized by myoclonic seizures, as well as absence seizures and tonic-clonic seizures.

8. Landau-Kleffner syndrome: Landau-Kleffner syndrome is a rare type of epilepsy that usually begins in childhood. It is characterized by seizures that are often accompanied by speech and language problems.

9. Rasmussen's syndrome: Rasmussen's syndrome is a rare type of epilepsy that usually begins in childhood. It is characterized by seizures that are often accompanied by progressive neurological deterioration.


1. Genetics
	One of the most common causes of epilepsy is genetic factors. Several genes have been identified that are linked to the development of epilepsy, and many people with epilepsy have a family history of the condition. In some cases, mutations in a single gene can cause epilepsy, while in other cases, multiple genes may be involved.

2. Brain injury or trauma
	Epilepsy can also be caused by brain injury or trauma, such as a head injury, stroke, or infection. These injuries can damage the brain tissue and disrupt normal electrical activity, leading to seizures. The risk of developing epilepsy after a brain injury depends on the severity and location of the injury.

3. Infections
	Certain infections, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and HIV, can also increase the risk of developing epilepsy. These infections can cause inflammation in the brain, which can disrupt normal brain function and lead to seizures.

4. Developmental disorders
	Developmental disorders, such as autism and cerebral palsy, can also increase the risk of developing epilepsy. These conditions are thought to affect the development of the brain, which can lead to abnormal electrical activity and seizures.

5. Brain tumors
	Brain tumors can also cause epilepsy by disrupting normal brain function and causing abnormal electrical activity. The risk of developing epilepsy is higher in people with brain tumors that are located in certain areas of the brain.

6. Chemical imbalances
	Imbalances in certain chemicals in the brain, such as neurotransmitters, can also contribute to the development of epilepsy. For example, a decrease in the neurotransmitter GABA, which inhibits brain activity, can increase the risk of seizures.

7. Substance abuse
	Substance abuse, particularly alcohol and drugs, can also increase the risk of developing epilepsy. These substances can cause damage to the brain and disrupt normal electrical activity, leading to seizures.

8. Hormonal changes
	Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during puberty or pregnancy, can also increase the risk of seizures in people with epilepsy. In women with epilepsy, seizures may be more frequent during certain phases of the menstrual cycle.

9. Unknown causes
	In many cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown, even after extensive testing and evaluation. This is referred to as idiopathic epilepsy and is thought to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.


1. Medication

Antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are usually the first line of treatment for epilepsy. These drugs work by reducing the frequency and severity of seizures by controlling the electrical activity in the brain. AEDs are effective in controlling seizures in about 70% of patients. There are over 20 AEDs available, and the choice of medication depends on the type of seizures a person has, their age, medical history, and other factors. Some common AEDs include:
	- Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
	- Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
	- Levetiracetam (Keppra)
	- Phenytoin (Dilantin)
	- Valproic acid (Depakote)

AEDs are usually taken orally, and the dosage is gradually increased until the seizures are under control. It is essential to take the medication as prescribed and not to stop taking it without consulting a doctor. Abruptly stopping the medication can lead to increased seizure activity and other complications.

2. Surgery
In some cases, surgery may be an option for treating epilepsy. Surgery is usually considered when medication fails to control seizures or when seizures originate from a specific area of the brain that can be removed without causing significant damage. The most common type of surgery for epilepsy is a temporal lobectomy, where the part of the brain responsible for seizures is removed. Surgery can significantly reduce or eliminate seizures in about 70% of patients who undergo the procedure.

3. Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
VNS is a type of therapy that involves implanting a device under the skin in the chest that delivers electrical impulses to the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the abdomen. The electrical impulses stimulate the nerve and reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures. VNS is usually considered for people who do not respond to medication or are not candidates for surgery. The device is programmed to deliver electrical impulses at regular intervals, and the frequency and intensity can be adjusted by a doctor.

4. Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has been used to treat epilepsy since the 1920s. The diet is believed to work by altering the metabolism in the brain and reducing seizure activity. The diet is usually recommended for children with epilepsy who have not responded to medication or are not candidates for surgery. The diet requires strict adherence and can have significant side effects, such as constipation, kidney stones, and high cholesterol.

5. Lifestyle Changes

In addition to medication and surgery, lifestyle changes can help manage epilepsy. These include:
	- Getting enough sleep: Lack of sleep can trigger seizures, so it is essential to get enough rest.
	- Avoiding triggers: Certain factors, such as stress, alcohol, and flashing lights, can trigger seizures. It is essential to identify and avoid these triggers.
	- Exercising regularly: Exercise can help reduce stress and improve overall health.
	- Managing stress: Stress can increase seizure activity, so it is essential to manage stress through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Lifestyle Changes

While medication is often the primary treatment for epilepsy, certain lifestyle changes can also help in managing the condition and reducing the frequency or severity of seizures. It's important to note that lifestyle changes may vary from person to person, and it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized recommendations. Here are some general lifestyle changes that may be beneficial:

- Medication adherence: It is crucial to take prescribed antiepileptic medications consistently and as directed by your healthcare provider to maintain seizure control.
- Sleep routine: Establishing a regular sleep schedule and ensuring adequate sleep is essential. Lack of sleep and irregular sleep patterns can trigger seizures in some individuals. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night.
- Stress management: Stress and anxiety can contribute to seizure activity in some people. Explore stress-reducing techniques such as relaxation exercises, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or engaging in hobbies and activities that help you relax and unwind.
- Healthy diet: Maintaining a well-balanced diet can positively impact overall health and potentially help manage epilepsy. Although specific dietary approaches like the ketogenic diet or modified Atkins diet have shown benefits for some people with epilepsy, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before making any significant dietary changes.
- Regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity, as recommended by your healthcare provider, can help manage stress, improve mood, and overall well-being. However, certain activities, such as swimming or climbing heights, may be restricted depending on your specific situation.
- Alcohol and drug use: Alcohol and recreational drugs can interfere with epilepsy medications and trigger seizures. It's advisable to avoid excessive alcohol consumption and illicit drug use.
- Seizure triggers: Be aware of your personal seizure triggers and take steps to avoid or minimize them. Common triggers include lack of sleep, stress, missed medications, alcohol consumption, flickering lights, or certain medications.
- Safety precautions: Taking precautions to ensure your safety during seizures is vital. Inform family members, friends, and colleagues about your condition, and consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace. Modify your environment to minimize potential hazards during a seizure, such as padding sharp edges or avoiding activities with a high risk of injury.
- Support network: Seek support from family, friends, or support groups. Sharing experiences, concerns, and coping strategies with others who understand epilepsy can be helpful in managing the condition.

Remember, each person's experience with epilepsy is unique, so it's essential to work closely with your healthcare team to develop a personalized plan that addresses your specific needs and circumstances.

Nutrional Changes

Dietary changes can play a role in managing epilepsy, particularly for individuals who don't respond well to medication or experience frequent seizures. The following dietary approaches have shown promise in reducing seizure frequency for some people with epilepsy:

- Ketogenic diet (KD): The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and adequate-protein diet. It aims to induce a state of ketosis, where the body primarily burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. This diet requires strict adherence and is usually initiated under medical supervision. The classic ketogenic diet typically consists of 90% fat, 6% protein, and 4% carbohydrates. Other variations, such as the modified Atkins diet and the low glycemic index treatment (LGIT), offer less stringent restrictions but still promote a state of ketosis. These diets may alter brain metabolism and reduce seizure activity in some individuals.
- Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) diet: The MCT diet is a modified version of the ketogenic diet that focuses on incorporating foods rich in medium-chain triglycerides. MCTs are fats that are more easily converted into ketones, which can be used by the brain as an alternative fuel source. This diet is less restrictive than the classic ketogenic diet but can still promote ketosis and potentially reduce seizures.
- Modified Atkins diet (MAD): The modified Atkins diet is a less restrictive version of the ketogenic diet that allows for more liberal protein and carbohydrate intake while still emphasizing high-fat foods. It can be easier to implement and maintain than the classic ketogenic diet, making it a more feasible option for some individuals.

It's crucial to note that dietary changes should be undertaken in consultation with a healthcare professional, particularly a registered dietitian who specializes in epilepsy. They can provide personalized guidance, monitor nutritional needs, and ensure that the diet is appropriately implemented while minimizing potential side effects.

Dietary changes may not work for everyone, and the effectiveness can vary. It is essential to work closely with your healthcare team to evaluate the benefits, monitor any potential side effects, and make adjustments as needed. Regular follow-ups and monitoring of nutritional status are crucial when implementing dietary changes for epilepsy management.

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