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Epilepsy FAQs - Is diet used to treat epilepsy?

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Is diet used to treat epilepsy?
The Ketogenic Diet is used to treat a small number of children with intractable epilepsy who do not respond to standard therapies. It is an extreme, multi–year, high–fat diet that is challenging to administer and maintain. There is no way to predict whether it will be successful, but a significant percentage of children who are placed on the Ketogenic Diet achieve significant reduction in intensity and frequency of seizures. At present, the diet is not considered helpful for adults.

What is vagus nerve stimulation therapy for epilepsy?
The vagus nerve stimulator has been approved to treat to control seizures.The device is an small, pacemaker–like generator which is surgically implanted near the collarbone to deliver small bursts of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve in the neck. So far, research has shown that vagus nerve stimulation may reduce seizures by at least 50%

What alternative therapies are used for epilepsy?
Unconventional or non–medical therapies that focus on the integration of the body, mind and spirit have not yet been well researched for epilepsy. Some people who have tried alternative therapies like relaxation, yoga, acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, nutrition and behaviour therapy have felt that these have helped their epilepsy and improved their quality of life.

Is epilepsy related to other neurological problems?
Epilepsy is not necessarily associated with other neurological problems or learning disabilities. Occasionally, the source of the seizures may be reflected in other neurological deficits. People with Epilepsy have the same range of intelligence as the general population.

Is there a link between memory loss and Epilepsy?
Some people with Epilepsy do experience a difficulty in recalling distant and recent events. Often, this is caused by the medications used to treat Epilepsy, or by regular seizure activity.

Can seizures be triggered by flashing lights?
“Photosensitive Epilepsy” is the name given to a form of the disorder where seizures are triggered by flickering or flashing lights. Though it occurs more frequently in girls aged 6–12, it can occur at any age and regardless of gender.

When is surgery used to treat Epilepsy?
Surgery is used only when medication fails and only in a small percentage of cases where the injured brain tissue causing the seizures is confined to one area of the brain and can be safely removed without damaging personality or functions.

Are there any diseases that persons with Epilepsy more prone to?
People with Epilepsy who are on medications may experience side effects that makes them more susceptible to other diseases and disorders. One common condition is Hyperplaxia, an over–growth of the gums caused by the drug Dilantin. Other common problems are liver dysfunction and depression.

Can epilepsy cause emotional problems?
People with Epilepsy may develop depression for both biological and social reasons. Some longstanding poorly controlled seizure disorders may be associated with chronic personality changes. Some patients may have emotional “Swings” or other thinking difficulties. Anger, fear, and depression are also common. However, with information and support, people with Epilepsy can understand the condition and develop positive coping strategies.

Is there a special diet for people with Epilepsy?
Good nutritional habits and a healthy life style may assist in the maintenance of optimum seizure control. Experiencing a drastic weight change may mean that either a chemical or metabolic imbalance is occurring, and you should consult your physician.

What if my child has a seizure during his sleep?
Children are usually awakened by seizures that occur while they sleep. Thus, a parent of a child with a known seizure disorder is usually aware when their child has seizures during the night. Only in those rare cases where a child vomits or experiences other problems during a seizure is there a need to worry.

Does alcohol affect seizures?
Alcohol can raise and then lower the seizure threshold, and thus increases the tendency to have a seizure. More important are interactions between alcohol and seizure medicines. Also, some drugs of abuse, especially cocaine and amphetamines, can cause seizures. Some prescription medications when taken in large doses can also bring on seizures.

Can low blood sugar trigger seizures?
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can induce epileptic–type seizures. This condition can be caused by diet or by drugs such as insulin. This is not really Epilepsy since it is not recurrent seizures that are due to abnormal brain activity. Here the seizures are directly caused by the blood sugar levels.

Can lack of sleep cause seizures?
Excessive sleep deprivation can lower seizure thresholds and possibly result in a seizure. Lack of sleep is known to be an important precipitating factor in causing seizures. Other factors that can lower seizure thresholds are high fever, increased excitement, and changes in body chemistry. It is important for people with Epilepsy to learn what kinds of events can trigger seizures for them.

How long do the seizures last?
Depending on the type of seizure, they can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. In rare cases, seizures can last many hours. For example, a tonic–clonic seizure typically lasts 1–7 minutes. Absence seizures may only last a few seconds, while complex partial seizures range from 30 seconds to 2–3 minutes. “Status Epilepticus” refers to prolonged seizures that can last for many hours, and this can be a serious medical condition. In most cases, however, seizures are fairly short and little first aid is required.

Can seizures occur if a person does not have Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a chronic condition of recurrent unprovoked seizures. Isolated seizures and provoked seizures (e.g., drug or alcohol induced) are not Epilepsy even though the events are real seizures. There are many types of non–epileptic seizures. Non–epileptic seizures differ from epileptic seizures in that there is usually no evidence of abnormal electrical activity in the brain after the seizure, and they do not occur repeatedly. Some of the more common causes of non–epileptic seizures are: low blood sugar, fainting, heart disease, stroke, migraine headaches, kinked blood vessels, narcolepsy, withdrawal, and extreme stress or anxiety.

What are pseudoseizures?
Psuedoseizures (or psychogenic seizures) are quite common and can occur in people who have, or do not have, Epilepsy. The attacks are triggered by a conscious or unconscious desire for more care and attention. The seizures start with rapid breathing, triggered by mental stress, anxiety, or pain. As the person breaths rapidly, they build up carbon dioxide in their body and change their chemistry. This can cause symptoms very much like Epileptic seizures: prickling in the face, hands, and feet, stiffening, trembling, etc. The appropriate treatment for pseudoseizures is to calm the person and start them breathing at a normal rate. Treatment should also involve investigating the mental and emotional factors that led to the psuedoseizure.

How do you distinguish epileptic seizures from pseudoseizures?
Epileptic seizures and pseudoseizures are distinguishable both by their nature and symptoms, but the diagnosis can be difficult. Epileptic seizures are caused by a change in how the brain cells send electrical signals to each other, while pseudoseizures are triggered by a conscious or unconscious desire for more care and attention. Thus, measuring brain activity with an EEG and video telmetry is important for distinguishing epileptic and pseudoseizures. Also, pseudoseizures often lack the exhaustion, confusion, and nausea that is associated with epileptic seizures.

What are “Status” seizures?
Status epilepticus is the term used to describe recurrent seizures without recovery of consciousness between attacks. This is a medical emergency and can be life threatening, or cause brain damage. Immediate action to get the necessary medical care should be taken.

What is an Aura?
Before the onset of a seizure some people experience a sensation or warning called an “Aura”. The aura may occur far enough in advance to give the person time to avoid possible injury. The type of aura experienced varies from person to person. Some people feel a change in body temperature, others experience a feeling of tension or anxiety. In some cases, the epileptic aura will be apparent to the person as a musical sound, a strange taste, or even a particular curious odour. If the person is able to give the physician a good description of this aura, it may provide a clue to the part of the brain where the initial discharges originate. An aura could occur without being followed by a seizure, and in some cases can by itself be called a type of simple partial seizure.


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