What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain in which nerve cells or neurons of the brain often give out abnormal signals. Normally, neurons generate signals known as electrochemical impulses that act on other neurons, the muscles and the glands and incite them to action. These impulses often incite action, thoughts and feelings on the individual. When there is epilepsy, there is disruption of neuronal activity, further causing various feelings, sensations, muscle spasms, seizures, convulsions and loss of consciousness to take place. During a seizure, there is firing of the neurons at a rate of about 500 times a second which is much faster than the normal rate of firing. In normal people this may happen occasionally however in others, this may happen for hundreds of times a day.
Not all people who have seizures have epilepsy. Only those who have two or more seizure episodes are considered to have epilepsy. Seizure episodes can be controlled with medicines and surgical techniques. Epilepsy cannot be transmitted from person to person; nor can it be caused by mental illness or mental retardation. Epilepsy can be caused by many factors, all of which may disturb the normal pattern of neuronal activity. These causes may include brain damage, illness or abnormal brain development. The most common cause of epilepsy is abnormality of brain wiring or an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are substances that serve as nerve signalling chemicals. Some people with epilepsy have an abnormally high level of excitatory neurotransmitters that will lead to an increase in neuronal activity. Other people who have epilepsy may have an abnormally low-level of inhibitory neurotransmitters which can decrease neuronal activity in the brain. One culprit for epilepsy is an imbalance of GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. In some cases, epilepsy may also result from the brain’s attempts to repair itself after a head injury, stroke, or other problems that may inadvertently generate abnormal nerve connections. If there are abnormalities in brain wiring that may occur during brain development, this can also lead to disruption of neuronal activity and can lead to epilepsy. The cell membrane surrounding each nerve cell may also play an important role in epilepsy; abnormalities in the cell membrane of neurons and its functions can also lead to epilepsy.
Genetic factors may also play a role in epilepsy. Some people with epilepsy may have abnormalities in a specific gene. Epilepsy may run in families; genetic factors may be triggered by environmental factors that may increase a person's susceptibility for seizures.
Other factors that may lead to epilepsy include other disorders such as brain tumors, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, heart attacks, meningitis, AIDS, viral encephalitis, other infectious diseases, celiac disease (intolerance to wheat gluten), a parasitic infection of the brain called neurocysticercosis and other medical conditions. Epilepsy is associated with a variety of developmental and metabolic disorders, including cerebral palsy, neurofibromatosis, pyruvate dependency, tuberous sclerosis, Landau-Kleffner syndrome, and autism. It may also result from head injuries, prenatal injuries, developmental problems, and poisoning. Most of these disorders are treatable and seizures may stop upon treatment of the underlying disorder.
New Treatment for Epileptic Seizures
A new treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy has been discovered by researchers from University College London. This pill has the potential to suppress seizures ‘on demand’. The findings of this study are published in the journal Nature Communications.
The pill suppresses seizures through a combination of genetic and chemical approaches while not disrupting normal brain function. The technique was demonstrated in rodents but in future we could see people controlling seizures on-demand with a simple pill. This pill contains CNO (clozapine-N-oxide), a compound that activates a protein which suppresses the over-excitable brain cells that trigger seizures. More studies are currently being conducted on this compound.
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