Understanding and coping with an epileptic diagnosis

November 21, 2017 Providence Health Team

Epilepsy is a common disorder that affects nerve cell activity in the brain and causes recurrent unprovoked seizures. An unprovoked seizure is a brief interruption in the electrical activity of the brain that is not triggered by low blood sugar or acute injury. Epileptic seizures are known to cause temporary changes in movement, awareness, behavior, feelings or other bodily functions.

“It’s a big misconception that all people who suffer seizures just fall to the floor and convulse,” says Julia Toub, MD, epileptologist at Providence Brain and Spine Institute. “In truth, there are many different types of seizures that can cause everything from muscle spasms, rigidity, sensory changes, loss of muscle tone to convulsions. There are two different classifications of seizures depending on where the seizure begins: generalized onset and focal onset”

Two broad classes of seizures

Seizures can be classified into two major groups, depending on the part of the brain affected:

  1. Generalized onset
    Generalized onset seizures affect the entire brain at the same time from the start.
  2. Focal onset
    Focal onset seizures start in one area or group of cells in one side of the brain and have the potential to spread throughout the brain.

In some cases, classification as either generalized or focal can be made only after more extensive testing.

Effectively managing an epileptic diagnosis

One of the biggest misunderstandings about epilepsy is that it cannot be controlled. Unfortunately, many people do not seek medical help either due to lack of access to resources, cultural stigma, or religious belief. In most cases, they are suffering from unmanaged seizures needlessly, which may adversely affect physical and psychological health. Untreated seizure disorders may result in physical injury and increase rates of anxiety and depression.

“Epilepsy is a rapidly-evolving field of medicine and we are learning more and more about how to effectively treat seizures,” says Dr. Toub. “While we don’t yet have all of the answers, we can help the vast majority control their symptoms.”

Coping with epilepsy

Seizures are anxiety provoking, especially when they are unpredictable. Understanding how to manage the symptoms through lifestyle modification and medication can help patients with epilepsy to live more confidently and improve their quality of life.

“The anxiety and depression that often goes along with an epileptic diagnosis can be more difficult to treat than the seizures themselves. Those who are struggling with unpredictable seizures should speak with a counselor or psychiatrist to develop healthy, effective coping mechanisms,” recommends Julia Toub, MD, “seizures can be a catalyst to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, so don’t hesitate to lean on friends, family and your community for support.”

Understanding and de-stigmatizing epilepsy

“Epilepsy education is really important,” urges Julia Toub, MD. “Generally speaking, people are afraid of what they don't know.”

Epilepsy education gives patients and their loved ones the tools they need to better understand their seizures. This knowledge coupled with a treatment plan can provide patients with the control they need to optimize their quality of life.

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with epilepsy some time ago, it is worth getting reevaluated. Today, there are better, more effective, less toxic treatment options and more medications available. Make an appointment with an epilepsy specialist today to get the treatment you need to improve your quality of life.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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