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Innovations in healthcare: research projects that are seeking to find the biological markers which predict epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterised by seizures which are caused by excessive electrical activity within networks of neurons in the brain.

It is one of the most common neurological conditions in the world. Its impact can vary considerably from person to person depending on which part of the brain is affected. Epilepsy can affect anyone of any age, gender, race or ethnicity, but is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and in people over the age of 60.

There are over 40 different types of seizure, but the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) have identify 3 main types:

  • generalised onset
  • focal onset
  • seizures of unknown onset

Seizures of generalised onset involve large areas on both sides of the brain and often result in loss of consciousness. Focal onset seizures affect a specific region in one side of the brain where consciousness may be altered but is not lost. Seizures of unknown onset are where the origin of the seizure is unclear.

Within each of these categories, there are recognisably different forms of epileptic seizure.

General onset seizures

The person may appear to be day-dreaming.  They look blank for a few seconds and may not be able to respond when spoken to and may not be aware that they have just experienced a seizure.

This is the classic form of epilepsy that most people think of when the word ‘epilepsy’ is mentioned. The person affected stiffens, then jerks, loses consciousness, convulses and may fall to the ground. They may also lose bladder control.

These seizures may cause the person with epilepsy to briefly lose consciousness, stiffen and fall heavily or lose muscle tone and crumple to the ground.

A person presenting with myoclonic seizures will experience rhythmic muscle jerks that can affect part or the whole of the body and can be strong enough to throw the person to the floor.

Focal onset seizures

Some people will experience a particular smell, sound, vision or feeling, directly before a seizure begins.  This is known as an aura and is in itself, a focal seizure.

Sometimes the person with epilepsy may experience unusual sensations and/or movement in one part of the body e.g. tingling or twitching.

In this particular instance the person with epilepsy may experience strange feelings and awareness may be disturbed or lost completely.  They may become unaware of their surroundings, be unable to respond when spoken to and their behaviour may appear unusual.

Serial seizures, prolonged seizures and status epilepticus

These seizure states can occur with all types of seizures and require urgent medical attention.

These are seizures that occur one after another without full recovery in between.

Prolonged seizures are seizures that last longer than five minutes or 2 minutes longer than the individual’s usual pattern.

Convulsive status epilepticus this is convulsive seizure activity which lasts for 30 minutes or more without a return to normal breathing or full consciousness.

Non-convulsive status epilepticus this is convulsive seizure activity which occurs in non-convulsive states eg: absences and focal seizures.

Find out more about epilepsy in our Research Blogs from the experts here.