A seizure disorder includes any condition in which there are repeated episodes of seizures of any type. In the brain, neurons must be timed correctly to control body movements and keep organs functioning correctly. When neurons misfire, a seizure occurs which can influence a person's consciousness, movement or actions. Usually, this state exists for just a few moments before everything appears to return back to normal. A seizure disorder affects about 0.5% of the population; a single seizure does not mean that someone has epilepsy. Psychomotor epilepsy is also known as temporal lobe epilepsy or complex partial seizures. Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder in which the electrical activity of the brain is periodically temporarily interrupted resulting in a seizure.
Epilepsy, also called idiopathic seizure disorder, is a common cause of seizures and is characterized by seizures of any type that occur on a chronic, recurrent basis that cannot be attributed to any other cause.
Disorders that may cause symptoms resembling seizures include transient ischemic attacks, rage or panic attacks, and any disorder that causes loss of consciousness or that causes tremors or tics as symptoms (abnormal muscle movements that are not caused by abnormal brain electrical activity).
While epilepsy may be caused by some original injury, that injury is usually unknown.
Known causes of seizures include:
There are over 30 different types of seizure and each type has its own characteristics. Seizures are classified as either generalized or partial depending upon how much of the brain is affected. Generalized seizures are divided into tonic-clonic and absence seizures.
Generalized – Tonic-clonic seizures (also known as grand mal seizures) have these characteristics:
Generalized – Absence seizures (also known as petit mal) have these characteristics:
The seizure stage of 60 to 90 seconds can include misperceptions of the environment, hallucinations, and bizarre sensations. Between seizures, personality is affected by excessive, tangential speech, overly emotional feelings, and lack of sexual desire. Under physical or emotional stress, psychotic episodes can occur.
Blood tests for gluten sensitivity antibodies were performed on 783 patients referred for seizures. In 36 patients who also had clinically evident celiac disease, no further seizures were noted after treatment with a gluten-free diet. In a second group of 9 patients, celiac disease was not recognized because of mild or absent symptoms, but the diagnosis was confirmed by jejunal biopsy. [Lancet 1992;340: pp.439-43]
At least six different studies have confirmed confirmed that people who experience seizures have below normal manganese levels. Epileptics have low whole blood and hair manganese levels, and those with the lowest manganese levels typically have the highest seizure activity.
Not all seizures are jerking motions. In psychomotor (mind-motion) epilepsy the seizures are manifested in personality, emotional, thinking, and behavioral changes. This condition is very likely to be misdiagnosed as a mental disorder. People with psychomotor epilepsy have been given schizophrenia, manic depressive, depression, attention-deficit disorder, and other diagnoses.
Taurine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, its main use being to help treat epilepsy and other excitable brain states. Research shows low taurine levels at seizure sites and its anti-convulsant effect comes from its ability to stabilize nerve cell membranes, which in turn prevents the erratic firing of nerve cells. Taurine functions as a mild sedative; doses for this effect are 500mg three times daily.
October 5th, 2003: Researchers from the Max-Planck Institut in Munich, Germany, have found that natural brain chemicals which resemble cannabis extracts can interrupt a process which can trigger a seizure. There have been trials of cannabis compounds in MS and cancer patients, as well as reports dating back to the 15th century of the use of cannabis to ease the symptoms of epilepsy. However, there have been few organised trials in humans in recent years, even though cannabis or its extracts are being evaluated in trials against several other illness.
The ketogenic diet has been in use and discussed in medical literature since the 1920s. It was replaced when the modern anti-convulsants became available, even though it has a very good success rate at controlling seizures. In some cases it is actually better than drugs at controlling seizures, having a success rate of 75%. Seizures are stopped in 50% of cases and reduced in 25%.
A ketogenic diet is one that is high in fat, low in carbohydrate and protein. This diet produces circulating ketones and a state called ketosis, where ketones are found in the urine. Ketones, like glucose, are burned for energy, but indicate that either fat is being taken from body fat stores or dietary fat intake is high. In attempting seizure control, this ketotic state exerts an anti-epileptic effect but its mechanism of action is not completely understood.
The ketogenic diet is used to treat intractable epilepsy in children. It may be prescribed when seizures are out of control, and when the side-effects of anticonvulsant drugs and/or surgery are considered unacceptable. The diet is safe, with rare side effects only when not strictly followed.
Most kids can stay on the diet for two years, get off it and never have another seizure again. The diet works best in children under the age of ten: they are less likely to cheat and young children can maintain ketosis better than adults or older children.
The diet mimics the effects of starvation. It has long been known that fasting has a beneficial effect on seizure control. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic came up with a way to induce the effects of starvation (fat burning, ketosis and a change in blood pH levels) by feeding the patient large quantities of fat and limiting protein and carbohydrate. The diet has to be rigidly controlled as any deviation can throw the patient out of ketosis and produce a seizure.
Most people investigate this diet as a last resort. The diet is unpalatable and demands great commitment from the entire family for a considerable period of time. The diet is deficient in many vitamins and in calcium, so a good (carbohydrate-free) vitamin supplement is important.
For those interested in more information, The Ketogenic Diet: A Treatment for Epilepsy by J. Freeman (2000) is often recommended.
In 1984, there were 3 reports about large amounts of Aspartame causing a lowering of the seizure threshold and therefore increasing seizure activity. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta did a review of this and were unable to find any cause or effect relationship at normal doses. More recently, Aspartame has been found to be unsuitable for some children with generalized absence Epilepsy. A Queen's University study looked at the brain-wave patterns in 10 children and the effects of the artificial sweetener "NutraSweet". A 40% increase in abnormal brain-wave activity associated with absence seizures was found in this study. However, there was no effect on the actual number of seizures. Research on this topic is continuing.
Studies show that water intoxication increases susceptibility to seizures even in normal individuals. Through a complex process, excessive water intake can lower sodium content in body fluids and predispose one to seizures.
In a preliminary study, 6 children with severe intractable seizures were given a 3mg tablet of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime in addition to their usual anti-seizure medication for three months. A reduction in seizure activity, particularly during the night, was experienced by 5 out of 6 starting 3 days after treatment began. The mean seizure rate decreased from 3.6 per day to 1.5 per day. According to the parents, daytime behavior also improved. This therapy should be monitored closely as a previous study with melatonin found increased seizure activity in some children. [Epilepsia 2001;42: pp.1208-10]
Sohler (1979) compared blood manganese (Mn) levels in a group of patients with seizure activity to those in a control group. Blood Mn levels from control subjects had a mean of 14.8ng/gm (ppb). The blood Mn levels were significantly lower in the patients with seizure activity, at 9.9 +/- 4.9ng/gm, p < 0.005). In uncontrolled trials several doctors found that Mn is helpful in controlling seizures of both minor and major types.
In one case report, a twelve-year-old boy with poorly controlled epilepsy experienced a reduction in seizure frequency after receiving 20mg per day of manganese. Although this research is encouraging, it must still be considered preliminary.