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How Are We Fighting Epilepsy?

How Are We Fighting Epilepsy?
Epilepsy
For many people, the attempt to control seizures is an unpleasant tradeoff for the adverse side effects caused by some of the drugs.

Over 2.3 million Americans suffer from the effects of seizures and epilepsy. Every year, another 181,000 will also develop the disorder (Epilepsy USA, p.10).

To understand epilepsy, one must imagine the brain as the world’s most complex computer. The neurons, or nerve cells in the brain, produce 10 quadrillion (10,000,000,000,000,000) electro-chemical impulses per second. These impulses govern everything the body does.

Normally, brain cells fire electrical impulses at about 80 times a second, in random patterns. In epilepsy cases, nerve cells fire as a unified group sending electrical impulses at 500 times a second, outward from a single point in the brain.

The type of seizures experienced depend upon the part of the brain where the abnormal electrical discharges arise and the severity of the seizures depend on how localized these discharges are.

The pulses galvanize nearby neurons into action and in some cases affect the entire brain by spreading outwards (Charbonneau 1).

The resulting seizure can range from a “staring episode” or a sudden “drop attack” to a massive, prolonged, and life-threatening convulsion. The disorder can be attributed to a range of factors including:

  • Head injury that causes scarring of the brain tissue.
  • Trauma at birth, or high fever.
  • Excessively rough handling or shaking of infants.
  • Certain drugs or toxic substances that are damaging to the brain’s nerve cells being administered in large doses.
  • Interruption of blood flow to the brain caused by tumors or cardiovascular problems.
  • Diseases that alter blood chemistry or damage nerve cells (Epilepsy USA, p. 8).

Seizures range from the unrecognizable to the more obvious. The most common types involve loss of consciousness coupled with feelings of uncertainty, fear, physical and mental exhaustion, confusion and memory loss.

Others can produce visual and auditory phenomena and can involve a “blank” feeling. Many people also experience an “aura” before the seizure itself.

EpilepsyThis involves a change in body temperature, a sense of anxiety or tension, and in some cases the illusion of a musical sound, a strange taste or a particular odor. An aura can also occur without being followed by a seizure.

Relaying a good description of it to an experienced doctor may provide a clue as to the source of the discharges within the brain (Epilepsy FAQs, p. 4).

New classifications of types of seizures have been drawn-up by the International Classification of Epilepsy Seizures and adopted by the medical community at large, including:

  • Partial Seizures: Localized excessive discharge at the mouth or upper extremities. This phenomenon usually occurs at night.
  • Status Seizures: Consecutive seizures without recovery from unconsciousness between attacks. Because these types of attacks can be life threatening or cause brain damage, immediate medical care is required.
  • Pseudo Seizures: These are triggered by a conscious or unconscious desire for more attention and occur both in epileptics and non-epileptics. They involve rapid breathing triggered by mental stress, anxiety or pain. The excelled breathing causes a build-up of carbon dioxide within the body, resulting in a prickling feeling in the face, hands and feet, as well as stiffening and trembling (Epilepsy FAQs, p.5,6).

Over 2.3 million Americans suffer from the effects of seizures and epilepsy. Every year, another 181,000 will also develop the disorder (Epilepsy USA, p.10).

To understand epilepsy, one must imagine the brain as the world’s most complex computer. The neurons, or nerve cells in the brain, produce 10 quadrillion (10,000,000,000,000,000) electro-chemical impulses per second. These impulses govern everything the body does.

Normally, brain cells fire electrical impulses at about 80 times a second, in random patterns. In epilepsy cases, nerve cells fire as a unified group sending electrical impulses at 500 times a second, outward from a single point in the brain.

The type of seizures experienced depend upon the part of the brain where the abnormal electrical discharges arise and the severity of the seizures depend on how localized these discharges are.

The pulses galvanize nearby neurons into action and in some cases affect the entire brain by spreading outwards (Charbonneau 1).

The resulting seizure can range from a “staring episode” or a sudden “drop attack” to a massive, prolonged, and life-threatening convulsion. The disorder can be attributed to a range of factors including:

  • Head injury that causes scarring of the brain tissue.
  • Trauma at birth, or high fever.
  • Excessively rough handling or shaking of infants.
  • Certain drugs or toxic substances that are damaging to the brain’s nerve cells being administered in large doses.
  • Interruption of blood flow to the brain caused by tumors or cardiovascular problems.
  • Diseases that alter blood chemistry or damage nerve cells (Epilepsy USA, p. 8).

Seizures range from the unrecognizable to the more obvious. The most common types involve loss of consciousness coupled with feelings of uncertainty, fear, physical and mental exhaustion, confusion and memory loss.

Others can produce visual and auditory phenomena and can involve a “blank” feeling. Many people also experience an “aura” before the seizure itself.

This involves a change in body temperature, a sense of anxiety or tension, and in some cases the illusion of a musical sound, a strange taste or a particular odor. An aura can also occur without being followed by a seizure.

Relaying a good description of it to an experienced doctor may provide a clue as to the source of the discharges within the brain (Epilepsy FAQs, p. 4).

New classifications of types of seizures have been drawn-up by the International Classification of Epilepsy Seizures and adopted by the medical community at large, including:

  • Partial Seizures: Localized excessive discharge at the mouth or upper extremities. This phenomenon usually occurs at night.
  • Status Seizures: Consecutive seizures without recovery from unconsciousness between attacks. Because these types of attacks can be life threatening or cause brain damage, immediate medical care is required.
  • Pseudo Seizures: These are triggered by a conscious or unconscious desire for more attention and occur both in epileptics and non-epileptics. They involve rapid breathing triggered by mental stress, anxiety or pain. The excelled breathing causes a buildup of carbon dioxide within the body, resulting in a prickling feeling in the face, hands and feet, as well as stiffening and trembling (Epilepsy FAQs, p.5,6).

The drug therapy needed to control the varied sources for and kinds of seizures, is a delicate balancing act. The doctor must be conversant in the various anticonvulsant drugs and how different seizures affect different patients. Patients must also be regularly monitored.

EpilepsyDrug therapy is often difficult as there are roughly 30 types of seizures and repeated drug treatments can damage developing brains (Epilepsy FAQs, p.5).

The most devastating forms of epilepsy are believed to have a genetic basis. The international consortium charged with sequencing the human genetic code (The Human Genome Project) published a report in 2001 stating that Chromosome Six, carrying 718 genes, is linked to certain diseases including epilepsy. Chromosome Six is one of three so far found to carry mutations that lead to diseases (Reaney, p. 1).

Phenytoin (Epanutin, Dilatin) has been used for generalized seizures, but there must be regular blood testing since a small increase in dose may create toxins in the blood and consequently increase the frequency of seizures.

A 1994 study showed that epileptic women receiving this drug are more likely to bear malformed children (Couldwell, p. 2).

One patient was documented as wanting to switch from sodium valporate – which she suspected could be behind her deteriorating memory – to Lamatrigine, which she heard was safer than the older epilepsy drugs.

Both of these drugs block the spread of abnormally fast nerve impulses in the brain. But, Lamatrigine, marketed as Lamictal (by Glaxo-Welcome) works by inhibiting the neurotransmitter release of glutamate, the excitable amino acid that plays a key role in epileptic seizures.

Although it is assumed to be safer than older epilepsy drugs like sodium valporate, during clinical trials a number of people using it have died. (Drug of the Month, p.7).

Research is also being done on factors that can trigger epileptic seizures. Those identified so far include: sleep deprivation, stress, illness, fear, drug use and excessive drinking (Charbonneau, p. 2).

In some women, seizures increase during menstruation (Catemenical Epilepsy) and flashing lights (Photosensitive Epilepsy) occur more frequently in girls, ages 6 -12. Seizures can also be induced by rapid strobe light-like bursts that produce changes in color (Charbonneau p. 2).

There is a growing interest in alternative ways to reduce epileptic attacks. While the general public knows little of the effects a dietary modification called the Ketogenic Diet, introduced in the 1920’s, the medical community has been aware of its befits regarding epilepsy for some time.

The diet consists of high amounts of fat (80% of calories) and low amounts of protein and carbohydrates (no more than 20%).

Supporters of the diet assert that a high fat diet helps repair the myelin sheath around the neurons. It also promotes ketosis, the production of certain acids called ketone bodies, which in the absence of carbohydrates, will be metabolized, instead of glucose, as fuel for the brain.

John Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland has been successful in seizure control via the Ketogenic Diet, noting a 75% percent improvement in most patients. The difficulty however, comes from having patients adhere to the diet, without deviation, for almost two years.

But, the patients of the Epilepsy and Brain Mapping Program at Huntington Memorial Hospital in California believe so strongly in the technique that they are raising funds to support Ketogenic Diet Research.

Dr. Harris L. Coulter believes that epilepsy is associated with violent behavior in modern society. He notes that the number of recorded cases of epilepsy in America has increased threefold since 1940, when there were 2.7 cases per 1000 inhabitants.

In 1990 documented cases increased to 10 per 1000 people. He stated that, “violent criminals tend to have a very high incidence of seizures.” His 1975 study of three American prisons, he found that the prisoners had about a history of seizures that was ten times higher than the general population (Couldwell p.3).

For many people, the attempt to control seizures is an unpleasant trade off for the adverse side effects caused by some of the drugs used to fight the disorder.

But, there is some hope…the alternative medicine community is currently seeking to find ways to treat the disorder without subjecting patients to the harmful side effects that can arise from conventional drug therapy.

The drug therapy needed to control the varied sources for and kinds of seizures, is a delicate balancing act. The doctor must be conversant in the various anti-convulsant drugs and how different seizures affect different patients. Patients must also be regularly monitored.

Drug therapy is often difficult as there are roughly 30 types of seizures and repeated drug treatments can damage developing brains (Epilepsy FAQs, p.5).

The most devastating forms of epilepsy are believed to have a genetic basis. The international consortium charged with sequencing the human genetic code (The Human Genome Project) published a report in 2001 stating that Chromosome Six, carrying 718 genes, is linked to certain diseases including epilepsy. Chromosome Six is one of three so far found to carry mutations that lead to diseases (Reaney, p. 1).

Phenytoin ( Epanutin, Dilatin ) has been used for generalized seizures, but there must be regular blood testing since a small increase in dose may create toxins in the blood and consequently increase the frequency of seizures.

A 1994 study showed that epileptic women receiving this drug are more likely to bear malformed children (Couldwell, p. 2).

One patient was documented as wanting to switch from sodium valporate – which she suspected could be behind her deteriorating memory – to Lamatrigine, which she heard was safer than the older epilepsy drugs.

Both of these drugs block the spread of abnormally fast nerve impulses in the brain. But,Lamatrigine, marketed as Lamictal (by Glaxo-Welcome) works by inhibiting the neurotransmitter release of glutamate, the excitable amino acid that plays a key role in epileptic seizures.

Although it is assumed to be safer than older epilepsy drugs like sodium valporate, during clinical trials a number of people using it have died. (Drug of the Month, p.7).

Research is also being done on factors that can trigger epileptic seizures. Those identified so far include: sleep deprivation, stress, illness, fear, drug use and excessive drinking (Charbonneau, p. 2).

In some women, seizures increase during menstruation (Catemenical Epilepsy) and flashing lights (Photosensitive Epilepsy) occur more frequently in girls, ages 6 -12. Seizures can also be induced by rapid strobe light-like bursts that produce changes in color (Charbonneau p. 2).

There is a growing interest in alternative ways to reduce epileptic attacks. While the general public knows little of the effects a dietary modification called the Ketogenic Diet, introduced in the 1920’s, the medical community has been aware of its befits regarding epilepsy for some time.

The diet consists of high amounts of fat (80% of calories) and low amounts of protein and carbohydrates (no more than 20%).

Supporters of the diet assert that a high fat diet helps repair the myelin sheath around the neurons. It also promotes ketosis, the production of certain acids called ketone bodies, which in the absence of carbohydrates, will be metabolized, instead of glucose, as fuel for the brain.

John Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland has been successful in seizure control via the Ketogenic Diet, noting a 75% percent improvement in most patients. The difficulty however, comes from having patients adhere to the diet, without deviation, for almost two years.

But, the patients of the Epilepsy and Brain Mapping Program at Huntington Memorial Hospital in California believe so strongly in the technique that they are raising funds to support Ketogenic Diet Research.

Dr. Harris L. Coulter believes that epilepsy is associated with violent behavior in modern society. He notes that the number of recorded cases of epilepsy in America has increased threefold since 1940, when there were 2.7 cases per 1000 inhabitants.

In 1990 documented cases increased to 10 per 1000 people. He stated that, “violent criminals tend to have a very high incidence of seizures.” His 1975 study of three American prisons, he found that the prisoners had about a history of seizures that was ten times higher than the general population (Couldwell p.3).

For many people, the attempt to control seizures is an unpleasant trade off for the adverse side effects caused by some of the drugs used to fight the disorder.

But, there is some hope…the alternative medicine community is currently seeking to find ways to treat the disorder without subjecting patients to the harmful side effects that can arise from conventional drug therapy.

References:
  • Couldwell, Clive “Epilepsy: The Link With Diet & Vaccines.” Epilepsy USA. 6:8 (1995): 1,2.
  • “Drug of the Month Lamatrigine.” WDDTY London. 6:10 (1996): 7.
  • Epilepsy Foundation. “Epilepsy: A Report To the Nation”. Epilepsy USA. 6 (1999): 1,10.
  • “Frequently Asked Questions About Epilepsy.” Epilepsy FAQs, 1996: 4-8.
  • Reaney, Patricia. “UK Chromosomes High In Disease Genes – Scientists.” Health Scout (2001): 1.

This article was first published in 2003 and is currently republished for importance.


About Hwaa Irfan

Late Hwaa Irfan, may her soul rest in peace, served as consultant, counselor and freelance writer. Her main focus was on traditional healing mechanisms as practiced in various communities, as opposed to Western healing mechanisms.

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