As we know the brain is a complex system of more than 100 billion neurons and cells storing a lifetime of memories & knowledge and is the central hub for all voluntary and involuntary movements. Electrical activity running through nerve cells helps your brain tell your body what to do, but if abnormal signals interrupt the brain?s normal functioning you can have a seizure.
With more than 50 million people around the world living with epilepsy the neurological disorder is by no means a rare sight. Whilst the main and most obvious symptoms of epilepsy are frequent seizures, as a disorder of the central nervous system its affects can be felt throughout the body.
More than 40 types of Seizure
With more than 40 recognised seizure types, side effects and personal experiences are extremely subjective to each individual. Seizures are generally described in two major groups and consequently display varying symptoms and bodily effects as detailed below:
Focal seizures occur when abnormal electrical functions happen on one side of the brain. In a simple focal seizure symptoms depend on the brain area in which it evolved and may be accompanied by nausea or sweating.
A complex focal seizure on the other hand occurs in the temporal lobe and will likely affect the memory or emotion. It is likely that the individual will experience a loss of consciousness or lack of awareness and will usually feel sleepy following the seizure.
In generalised seizures the individual will experience activity in both halves of the brain and as a result will usually lose consciousness.
- During a tonic-clonic seizure your body may go stiff and it is likely that you will experience jerking motions, as well as a loss of bladder control.
- Similarly during an atonic seizure you will lose all muscle tone and drop heavily to the floor.
- Myoclonic seizures on the other hand are usually isolated or short-lasting that can affect some or all of your body.
- Absence seizure are short, usually lasting 30 seconds or less; a person experience an absence seizure may appear to be staring and will have no awareness of what happened.
In general seizures will last no more than a few minutes. However, sometimes a seizure can last longer and anything from 5 to 30 minutes will be classed as Status Epilepticus. These types of seizure can significantly increase the risk of permanent damage to the brain.
Epilepsy Effects Explained
As described above what happens to you during a seizure will depend on where in your brain the epileptic activity begins and how widely and quickly it spreads. Therefore each person will experience epilepsy in a way which is unique to them. We have detailed a few of the most common effects epilepsy and associated medications can have on your body.
An epileptic aura is the term used to describe symptoms that may occur before a seizure. Whilst not everyone will experience an aura, for many it can be the first sign that you are going to have a seizure. This may occur several seconds or up to 60 minutes prior to a seizure.
A feeling of euphoria or worry is common practice with symptoms including:
- Visual changes (bright lights, spots, distortions)
- Hearing voices or sounds
- Strange smells
- Numbness or tingling on one side of your face or body
Depression is a very common side effect of Epilepsy and associated medication. According to research one in every 3 people with epilepsy will experience some form of depression during their lifetime. More common in people with temporal lobe epilepsies, you may find that symptoms are related to the seizures themselves as individuals can experience a sudden worsening of their mood as the first part of their seizures (likely during aura).
On the whole most people are not affected by their epilepsy medicines, however, for some people their mood can be affected and this may result in depression. This can often be dose related and therefore controlled; although you should never make changes to medications without consulting your doctor.
Circulatory & Respiratory
Seizures can often interfere with an individual?s heart and consequently their breathing patterns. Ensure that you watch out for a shortness of breath, coughing or in rare cases choking. In a long term outlook, epilepsy increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
During a seizure the brain can tell your muscles to contract and relax and consequently results in uncontrollable jerking movements. Additionally some individuals may experience a ?cry? whereby the muscles surrounding vocal cords seizure up and push air out which results in a cry or scream like sound.
The Digestive System
A number of medications used to treat epilepsy can cause problems with the digestive system such as heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. Constipation and diarrhoea can also be problematic. However, people will generally become less sensitive to these problems overtime.
Memory difficulties is a well-recognised and common problem for people who have epilepsy. Research demonstrates that a large portion of memory is located in the temporal lobe and is therefore a particular problem for those with temporal lobe epilepsies.
Epileptic seizures can affect memory functioning because the brain needs to continuously self-monitor, a process which is often disrupted during a seizure. Memories before a seizure may be lost as they haven?t been fully incorporated into your memory system or because a loss of consciousness can interfere with normal brain processes, disrupting the encoding and storage of information.
Whilst epilepsy doesn?t affect the reproductive system directly it can have an impact on pregnancy. Approximately 25-40% of females with epilepsy will experience a higher number of seizures during pregnancy.
The majority of women will experience healthy pregnancies and healthy babies but there is a higher risk of hypertensions, delivering an underweight baby, and stillbirth. Therefore pregnant women with epilepsy should be closely monitored.
More Help and Advice
Whilst many of these epilepsy side effects can?t be stopped, many can be controlled. Ensure that you understand how your body may react to epilepsy, seizures, or medication and always speak to a doctor before making any lifestyle changes in a bid to manage the above effects.
If you?re currently experiencing seizures, or care for someone who is, you could benefit from a range of epilepsy support monitors. Designed to provide peace of mind and increased independence for both individuals and their carers Alert-it alarms are an excellent investment.
For more information and advice, why not get in contact with our fantastic team. Give us a call on 01530 231484 or 0845 217 9952.