Epilepsy: Causes and symptoms


Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.

Every function in the human body is triggered by messaging systems in your brain. Epilepsy results when this system is disrupted due to faulty electrical activity in the brain.

Seizures are divided into groups depending on;

  • Where they start in the brain (onset)
  • Whether or not a person’s awareness is affected
  • Whether or not seizures involve other symptoms, such as movement

Depending on where they start, seizures are described as being;

  1. Focal onset- this start in, and affect, just one part of the brain, sometimes called the ‘focus’ of the seizures.
  2. Generalised onset – affect both sides of the brain at once and happen without warning.
  3. Unknown onset- this term is sometimes used to describe a seizure if doctors are not sure where in the brain the seizure starts.

Causes of epilepsy

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Scarring on the brain after a brain injury (post-traumatic epilepsy)
  • Serious illness or very high fever
  • Stroke, which is a leading cause of epilepsy in people over age 35
  • Other vascular diseases – any abnormal condition of the blood vessels (arteries and veins)
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Brain tumor or cyst
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Maternal drug use, prenatal injury, brain malformation, or lack of oxygen at birth
  • Infectious diseases such as AIDS and meningitis
  • Genetic or developmental disorders or neurological diseases


  • A convulsion with no temperature (no fever)
  • Short spells of blackout, or confused memory
  • Intermittent fainting spells, during which bowel or bladder control is lost, which is frequently followed by extreme tiredness
  • For a short period, the person is unresponsive to instructions or questions
  • The person becomes stiff, suddenly, for no apparent reason
  • The person suddenly falls for no clear reason
  • Sudden bouts of blinking without apparent stimuli
  • Sudden bouts of chewing, without any apparent reason
  • For a short time the person seems dazed and unable to communicate
  • Repetitive movements that seem inappropriate
  • The person becomes fearful for no apparent reason; they may even panic or become angry
  • Peculiar changes in senses, such as smell, touch, and sound
  • The arms, legs, or body jerk, in babies these will appear as a cluster of rapid jerking movements


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