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Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells sometimes signal abnormally, often causing a seizure.

Just as there are many types of epilepsy, there are many types of seizures and seizure symptoms. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Absence epilepsy, accompanied by repeated absence seizures, in which a person momentarily loses consciousness.
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy with focal seizure (or partial seizure) causes a change in or loss of consciousness. 
  • Febrile seizure is common in infants with a high fever; most children who have a febrile seizure do not develop epilepsy.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures (formerly called grand mal seizures) cause stiffening, then jerking of the muscles with a loss of consciousness.
  • Clonic seizure causes jerking and twitching of the muscles. 

Epilepsy: what you should know

  • Having one seizure does not mean you have epilepsy: You must have had two or more seizures to be diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy can develop as a result of damage to the brain from a head injury or from disorders that affect the brain, such as a brain tumor or stroke. Often, there is no detectable risk factor for developing epilepsy. 
  • Around 30 percent of seizures are not controlled by anti-seizure medications. These seizures are referred to by a variety of terms, including intractable epilepsy, treatment-resistant epilepsy and refractory epilepsy.

How can I get help for epilepsy?

  • If you or your child has had one or more seizures, call your primary care doctor or pediatrician. Your doctor may refer you to an epilepsy specialist at Rush to obtain an accurate diagnosis, pinpoint the source of seizures and advise the most appropriate treatment.
  • For diagnosis, your epilepsy specialist may recommend tests to measure electrical activity in your brain. These tests may include some of the following:
    • Electroencephalogram (EEG) or a video EEG (VEEG)
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Diffusion tensor imaging (a type of specialized MRI)
    • Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)
  • Patients with intractable epilepsy may benefit from seeking a second opinion from an experienced epileptologist, like those at the Rush Epilepsy Center. Sometimes patients may have a wrong initial diagnosis. In other cases, an epileptologist may recommend a more effective medication or that patients explore surgical options to help decrease seizures.

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