What is epilepsy

The majority of individuals probably has a general idea of what epilepsy is, but for those who don’t, here is a general explaination of the condition and types of seizures that occur.

Epilepsy is the misfiring of neurotransmitters within the brain. Neurotransmitters transfer the information through neurons from one cell to the next. The main difference between an individual with epilepsy, and someone without is that when a seizure occurs, the frequency of firing of the neurons can be up to ten times as fast as an individual without epilepsy.

Most individuals do not know what a seizure is when they see one. Usually the only type of seizure that someone is able to realize is happening is a total seizure or tonic-clonic seizure. For individuals that are unaware of types of seizures, here are some general descriptions of seizure types.

Tonic

  • The body, arms, or legs may become tense
  • Usually last less than 20 seconds
  • Person may lose balance

Clonic

  • Rare and most commonly seen in babies
  • Jerking movements that may last up to 2 minute

Tonic-Clonic

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle stiffening
  • Jerking
  • Last usually one to three minutes
  • One lasting more than five minutes should get medical attention

Absence seizures

  • Most common type of seizure
  • Individual has a blank stare or look
  • These usually last ten seconds or less
  • Eyes turn upward and flutter

Focal awareness

  • Remains alert
  • Able to interact
  • lasts only a few seconds up to two minutes

Focal impaired awareness

  • Usually lasts between one and two minutes
  • Lip smacking
  • Pulling at clothes
  • Wandering

Myoclonic

  • Brief muscle jerks
  • Individual aware and able to function
  • Abnormal movements

What Causes A Seizure ?

Chemical Imbalance

Although it’s not totally known the reason behind seizures occurring, there are two main reasons that have been identified through research. An imbalance of excitable and inhibitory neurotransmitters could be a mechanism. This may include a decrease in the neuro transmitter GABA which is inhibitory (1). Another reason may be a loss of electrical excitability of sodium channels which initiate an action potential in the neurons of the brain (2). These are two of the main physiological actions which may initiate seizures. 

Stress

Numerous studies have shown that conditions such as depression and anxiety act as triggers for both epileptic seizures and non epileptic events which mimic seizures. These are known as PNES or PNEE  which stands for psychogenic non epileptic seizures or events.

What is PNEE ?

This is short for psychogenic non epileptic events, previously known as PNES, or psychogenic non epileptic seizures. Because the event has no seizure disorder concerning abnormal brain activity, the term PNES is not used as much. 

The cause of PNEE are conditions such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and other mental conditions, which result in seizure like activity, only without the chemical effects on the brain that epilepsy has.

It is also possible that an individual can have both epilepsy and pnee, and although the main cause of epilepsy is chemical imbalance of the brain, psychological stresses as depression and anxiety have also been shown to be triggers for not only PNEE, but epileptic seizures as well (4,5,6) although more research may be needed. If you believe you have either pnee or both pnee and epilepsy, you should mention it to your doctor in order to get tests ran.

How do you know ? 

It’s impossible to know the type of event that is occurring unless the individual is being monitored with an EEG, although for the patient, if no after effects are felt, this may be a possible sign of PNEE. The use of therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and meditation have been shown to help reduce if not eliminate PNEE due to stress reduction. Because it has been shown that stress can be a possible trigger for epileptic seizures, using therapies for treatment of epileptic seizures may be possible.  Also, since the use of marijuana helps with stress reduction,  it could be an indirect factor in how it assists in  some epileptic seizures, but more research needs to be done. 

Some conditions that can trigger seizures include

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD

This can also occur the opposite way as well, with  seizures being a trigger for anxiety and/or depression.  If you think that anxiety or depression may be a trigger for your seizures you should consider using some type of therapy. 

Natural therapies 

  • Cognitive behaviorial therapy
  • Emotional release techniques
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation

” The prevelance of psychological disstress, especially depression and anxiety disorder, is higher in epilepsy than in other chronic health conditions. These cormorbid features contribute even more than  seizures themselves to impaired quality of life in patients with epilepsy.” (3)

Chinese Herbs Direct

Epilepsy is a very complex condition, and there is still much more to be learned in order to have more effective treatment. If you believe that triggers of your seizures may be more mental, read some of the references below and talk to your doctor.

For the majority of seizures which occur, research concerning treatments with natural substances such as marijuana, and other forms of treatment are always occuring. In the future these new and more effective treatments will help decrease the frequency of seizures one has, giving them a healthier higher quality of life.

References

  1. Modulation of GABA receptors in the treatment of epilepsy

2. Forty years of sodium channels: Structure, function, pharmacology, and epilepsy

3. Stress regulation in drug-resistant epilepsy

4. The role of stress as a trigger for epileptic seizures

5. Cognition-induced epilepsy associated with specific emotional precipitants

6 Stress as a seizure precipitant