see also Epileptic Fits, Fits & Convulsions, Fits, Fits in Children, Febrile Convulsions
Recurrent excessive electrical discharge from groups of nerve cells in the brain, overwhelming normal functioning in neighbouring cells. Epilepsy affects one person in every 200, and appears to run in families, but in two cases out of three no obvious physical cause (i.e. brain damage due to injury or infection) can be found. However, there is a slight danger that repeated fits may cause brain damage. Diagnosed epileptics must report their condition when applying for a driving licence - the consequences, to themselves and to others, of an attack occurring at the wheel are too unpleasant to need spelling out.
There are four main types of epilepsy: petit mal and grand mal epilepsy; and focal epilepsy and temporal lobe epilepsy which are less common. Petit mal epilepsy mostly occurs in children and usually disappears in adolescence. There is no loss of consciousness or falling to the ground; the child just stares blankly for a few seconds, perhaps makes swallowing movements or jerks his or her head or arms, and then comes back to normal, often without realising what has happened. In grand mal epilepsy the person loses consciousness and falls to the ground, and the body stiffens and starts jerking, this generally lasts for a few minutes, after which the person either regains consciousness and is very confused or falls into a deep sleep. Many sufferers experience strange sensations affecting smell, sight or hearing just before a fit comes on; these are known as an 'aura'. In focal epilepsy just one part of the body starts to twitch and jerk, but there is no loss of consciousness. In temporal lobe epilepsy, so called because the lobes of the brain just behind the temples are the site of abnormal electrical activity there is a brief aura followed by behaviour which is bizarre or totally out of character.
The first thing to do when someone has a fit is to remove dangerous objects and make sure the person is not in danger (in the middle of the road, for example). A baby having a fit should be wrapped in a sheet or blanket to prevent injury. If the person passes out, put him or her in the recovery position (see First Aid). If the fit continues for more than 3 minutes, or stops and then starts again, contact Emergency Medical Services. Once fit is over, allow the person to sleep. Most authorities now advise against putting objects in the mouth to prevent the tongue being bitten as this can cause broken teeth; a bitten tongue heals very quickly.
Orthodox management of diagnosed epilepsy is anti-convulsant drugs, some of which have unpleasant side effects; only in rare cases can the condition be cured. Depending on the nature of the attacks and the potential hazards, constitutional treatment from experienced homeopath might also be appropriate, although certain prescription drugs are known to antidote homeopathic remedies. For specific remedies, see Fits; these should be given immediate after an epileptic fit wears off.
Please see Epileptic Fits in the First Aid section.