Although epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders involving the Reference nervous system Opens New Window, experts often cannot explain exactly how or why the disease develops and how or why the abnormal electrical activity in the brain occurs. Epilepsy does not always follow a predictable course. It can develop at any age and may get worse over time or get better.
Although uncommon, epilepsy that begins in a specific area of the brain may eventually affect another part of the brain. Some types of childhood epilepsy disappear after the child reaches the teenage years. Other types may continue for life. Epilepsy that started after a head injury may disappear after several years or may last the rest of your life.
There is no cure for epilepsy. But treatment can control epileptic seizures, sometimes preventing them from ever occurring again.
Quality of life
Epilepsy and uncontrolled seizures can put limitations on your independence, self-esteem, and quality of life. With epilepsy, you may have trouble getting or keeping a driver's license. If you become pregnant, complications can occur. Your career choices may be limited. Some people with epilepsy face discrimination at work or school due to other people's fears and misconceptions about this condition.
The good news is that proper treatment may allow you to control seizures, which can lead to improved quality of life and allow you to better cope with the disorder.
Finding out you have epilepsy can be hard. You may not be able to do some of the things you used to take for granted (such as driving a car). Epilepsy is also a disease that can be hard to treat for some people, especially at first. You may need to try many different types of medicines before you find one that works just right. All of these things may make you feel sad or angry. It may help you to talk to a Reference psychologist Opens New Window or Reference counselor Opens New Window if you are feeling bad about having epilepsy.
Concerns about mental health or intelligence
Epilepsy does not cause and is not a form of mental illness. And in general it does not affect your ability to think and learn. Most people with epilepsy have normal intelligence. Children with epilepsy may have a hard time performing in school, but this is usually not the result of below-normal intelligence. Frequent Reference absence seizures Opens New Window, for instance, may explain why a child seems to "zone out" or not pay attention during class. Some medicines used to control seizures may affect a child's ability to stay focused at school.
A few, rare childhood epilepsy syndromes are exceptions to this in that they are typically associated with reduced intelligence, delayed physical and mental development, and other problems. These include Reference infantile spasms (West syndrome), Reference Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Reference Rasmussen syndrome Opens New Window, among others. Tests, such as Reference neuropsychological tests, can help your doctor find out if a problem in the brain is affecting your child's ability to reason, concentrate, solve problems, or remember.
Because epilepsy is often a lifelong (chronic) disease, it can be hard to understand how much your life will change. Some people may have feelings of despair, depression, or anxiety after hearing that they have epilepsy. In some studies, adults with epilepsy had a higher risk of suicide, especially if they had also been diagnosed with depression or another mental illness, and especially within 6 months of being diagnosed with epilepsy.Reference 1 For more information on depression, see the topic Reference Depression.
If you or another adult friend or family member was just diagnosed with epilepsy or just started a new treatment for epilepsy, you may want to watch for suicidal thoughts or threats. For more information on what to watch for, see the topic Reference Suicidal Thoughts or Threats.
Complications of seizures
Epileptic seizures themselves usually cause no harm—the danger lies in where you are or what you are doing when the seizure occurs. There is always a risk of head injury, broken bones, and other injuries from falling or from drowning if you are swimming or bathing at the time of the seizure. It can be dangerous to be operating machinery or Reference driving when you have a seizure. You cannot swallow your tongue during seizures. But you can choke on food, vomit, or an object in your mouth.
Some seizures may place temporary but severe stress on the body and cause problems with the muscles, lungs, or heart. Choking, an Reference abnormal heartbeat Opens New Window, or other problems may cause sudden death, though this is rare. Untreated seizures that become more severe or frequent may lead to these problems. One of the most dangerous complications of epilepsy is a prolonged seizure condition that can result in brain damage or death called Reference status epilepticus Opens New Window.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference August 26, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Reference Steven C. Schachter, MD - Neurology