November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. Epilepsy is a chronic disorder, the hallmark of which is recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A person is diagnosed with epilepsy if they have two unprovoked seizures.
What happens in the brain during a seizure? The electrical activity is caused by complex chemical changes that occur in nerve cells. Brain cells either excite or inhibit other brain cells from sending messages. Usually there is a balance of cells that excite and those that can stop these messages. However, when a seizure occurs, there may be too much or too little activity, causing an imbalance between exciting and stopping activity. The chemical changes can lead to surges of electrical activity that cause seizures.
Many people living with epilepsy have more than one type of seizure. My youngest daughter, Isabelle, is living with epilepsy and has three types of seizures: atypical absence seizures, atonic seizures, and myoclonic seizures.
What is an atypical absence seizure? These seizures are a type of absence seizure that is atypical. This means it’s different, unusual, or not typical compared to typical absence seizures, which were previously called petit mal seizures. They are a type of generalized onset seizure, which means they start in both sides of the brain. The person will stare (just like in absence seizure) but they may be able to respond a bit. Eye blinking, chewing movements, lip smacking or slight jerking may occur.
What is an atonic seizure? Muscles tome is the muscle’s normal tension. “Atonic” means without tone. So in an atonic seizure, muscles suddenly become limp. Part of the body may become limp. The eyelids may droop, the head may nod or drop forward, and the person may drop things. If standing, the person often falls to the ground. These seizures are also called drop attacks or drop seizures.
What is a myoclonic seizure? Myoclonic seizures are brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles. “Myo” means muscle and “clonus” means rapidly alternating contraction and relaxation – jerking or twitching – of a muscle. There can be just one, but sometimes many will occur within a short time.