Seizures occur when abnormal events in the brain trigger changes in consciousness, muscle control, and sensations. Epilepsy is a term that describes a variety of syndromes characterized by the spontaneous recurrent seizures. Epilepsy and “seizure disorder” are synonymous. During a seizure, brain cells suddenly start firing rapidly in an abnormal fashion.
A seizure may affect the entire brain (generalized seizure), or it may be confined to one neural region (partial seizure). The characteristics of a seizure depend on how much of the brain is affected, and which part of the brain is involved. Epilepsy syndromes (seizure disorders) are classified according to the type of recurrent seizure, when the seizures began (during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood), whether epilepsy runs in the family, or whether a brain abnormality is present on a diagnostic test.
While seizures are a symptom of epilepsy, not all seizures are caused by epilepsy. Drug withdrawal, fever, and a sudden drop in blood sugar are among the things that can trigger a seizure in a person who has an otherwise normally functioning brain and no tendency to have seizures. Heavy alcohol use followed by a period of abstinence can cause a seizure.
Any damage to the brain can cause seizures. Head trauma from a car accident or sports injury may lead to recurrent seizures (epilepsy). Brain tumors, strokes, and infections of the brain and surrounding tissues can also lead to epilepsy.In many people who suffer from seizures, no structural defects can be found, and the cause remains unknown. Some of these cases are the result of genetic abnormalities that affect brain signals.
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