AIDS NINDS Epilepsy Information Page
Source: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain sometimes signal abnormally. In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity — from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development — can lead to seizures. Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, or some combination of these factors. Having a seizure does not necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy. EEGs and brain scans are common diagnostic test for epilepsy.
Is there any treatment?
Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. For about 80 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled with modern medicines and surgical techniques. Some antiepiletic drugs can interfere with the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. In 1997, the FDA approved the vagus nerve stimulator for use in people with seizures that are not well-controlled by medication.
What is the prognosis?
Most people with epilepsy lead outwardly normal lives. While epilepsy cannot currently be cured, for some people it does eventually go away. Most seizures do not cause brain damage. It is not uncommon for people with epilepsy, especially children, to develop behavioral and emotional problems, sometimes the consequence of embarrassment and frustration or bullying, teasing, or avoidance in school and other social setting. For many people with epilepsy, the risk of seizures restricts their independence (some states refuse drivers licenses to people with epilepsy) and recreational activities. People with epilepsy are at special risk for two life-threatening conditions: status epilepticus and sudden unexplained death. Most women with epilepsy can become pregnant, but they should discuss their epilepsy and the medications they are taking with their doctors. Women with epilepsy have a 90 percent or better chance of having a normal, healthy baby.
What research is being done?
Scientists are studying potential antiepileptic drugs with goal of enhancing treatment for epilepsy. Scientists continue to study how neurotransmitters interact with brain cells to control nerve firing and how non-neuronal cells in the brain contribute to seizures. One of the most-studied neurotransmitters is GABA, or gamma-aninobutryic acid. Researchers are working to identify genes that may influence epilepsy. This information may allow doctors to prevent epilepsy or to predict which treatments will be most beneficial. Doctors are now experimenting with several new types of therapies for epilepsy, including transplanting fetal pig neurons into the brains of patients to learn whether cell transplants can help control seizures, transplanting stem cells, and using a device that could predict seizures up to 3 minutes before they begin. Researchers are continually improving MRI and other brain scans. Studies have show that in some case, children may experience fewer seizures if they maintain a strict diet – called the ketogenic diet – rich in fats and low in carbohydrates.
Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE)
505 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
4351 Garden City Drive
Landover, MD 20785-7223
Tel: 301-459-3700 800-EFA-1000 (332-1000)
257 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010
Family Caregiver Alliance
690 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
Tel: 415-434-3388 800-445-8106
National Council on Patient Information and Education
4915 St. Elmo Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814-6053
National Family Caregivers Association
10400 Connecticut Avenue
Kensington, MD 20895-3944
Tel: 301-942-6430 800-896-3650
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
International Radiosurgery Support Association (IRSA)
P.O. Box 60950
Harrisburg, PA 17110-0950
Related NINDS Publications and Information
Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research
Information booklet on seizures, seizure disorders, and epilepsy compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Febrile Seizures information sheet compiled by NINDS.
Febrile Seizures Fact Sheet
Febrile seizures fact sheet compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Convulsiones febriles hoja informativa/Spanish-language fact sheet compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Infantile spasms (West Syndrome) information sheet compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Curing Epilepsy: Focus on the Future
Summary of a White House-initiated conference, "Curing Epilepsy,", March 30-31, 2000.
"Benchmarks" For Epilepsy Research
Results from the "Curing Epilepsy: Focus on the Future" Conference, held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in March 2000.
Patients with Seizures Sought for Studies
Lay-language descriptions of new program announcements and clinical trials seeking patient volunteers.
Workshop Summary: Models of Epileptogenesis and Epilepsy
Workshop Summary: Models for Epilepsy & Epileptogenesis
Workshop on Antiepileptic Drug (AED) Monotherapy Indications
A workshop attempt to reach consensus on the best method to obtain FDA approval for monotherapy labeling for antiepileptic drugs (AEDs).
Gene Linked to Epilepsy With Auditory Features
February 2002 news summary on a gene for familial epilepsy with auditory features.
Molecular Analysis of Complex Genetic Epilepsies
Summary of a workshop on molecular analysis of complex genetic epilepsies held January 31 – February 1, 2002.
Patients with Seizures Sought for Studies
Lay-language descriptions of new NINDS program announcements, requests for applications, and clinical studies seeking patients.
NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.
All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892