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Common Questions about Epilepsy

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that causes unpredictable, recurrent seizures.

What happens during a seizure?

The type of symptoms a person has during a seizure depends on where the abnormal electrical activity starts in the brain, where it spreads to in the brain, how fast it spreads through the brain, and how much of the brain is affected. Learn more about seizures, including the different types and what happens during an episode. 

What causes epilepsy?

Unfortunately, in many patients, no cause of epilepsy can be found. There are certain factors that may contribute to the cause, such as a history of serious head injury, brain tumor, stroke, poisoning, alcoholism, infection of the central nervous system, or a birth injury that affected the developing brain of the fetus. Some patients have a genetic predisposition (family history) of seizures. Just about anything that can cause injury to the brain has the potential to cause recurring seizures.

Although epilepsy is defined as repetitive seizures, not all seizures are the result of epilepsy. Physicians at the Henry Ford Comprehensive Epilepsy Program are trained to identify the cause of seizures and specialize in their treatment.

Who is likely to develop epilepsy?

The disorder affects about 3 million people nationwide, including an estimated 90,000 people in Michigan. Epilepsy usually begins in young children or the elderly. The causes are different. As many as one half of children with epilepsy may have it because of inherited genetic factors. In the elderly, the causes are often stroke, head injuries or tumors.

Do seizures cause intellectual disability?

Many patients wonder if epilepsy and intellectual disability are related. About one of every three individuals with intellectual disability has epilepsy. However, the majority of people with epilepsy do not have intellectual disability, and frequent seizures do not generally cause intellectual disability.

Can epilepsy be cured?

Neurologists and neurosurgeons rarely speak of "cures" for migraine, stroke, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy. More importantly, the focus is on treatment. The goal of epilepsy treatment is to stop seizures from occurring without causing unacceptable side effects. In many patients this goal can be achieved with drug therapy. For some people, drugs may be needed only for a few years, whereas for others the need for medicine may be life-long.

What is the expert approach to epilepsy treatment?

Epilepsy is a complex disorder that requires the combined expertise of a variety of specialists for the most effective care. Comprehensive, quality care starting from the first doctor visit and continuing through diagnosis, treatment and follow-up necessitates a team approach to the care of epilepsy patients. The Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Henry Ford Hospital focuses on multidisciplinary care, bringing together a team of health professionals in a wide variety of specialties to work together for the benefit of the patient.


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