Understanding your diagnosis is the first step in treating it. The better you understand your own diagnosis, the better you may be able to help your doctor treat you. Your doctor may use terms that describe the kind of seizures that you have. Additionally, your doctor may use a name to describe the type of epilepsy (called an epilepsy syndrome) that fits your situation. An epilepsy syndrome is just another way of describing your seizures along with other signs and symptoms of your epilepsy.

While most seizures are treated easily with medicines, sometimes emergencies can develop that require more help, either at home or in the hospital. Knowing what a seizure emergency is and how to recognize and treat it early can help prevent serious problems.

Seizures can occur in anyone at any time. In many people, seizures develop without warning. In others, being aware of certain factors or "warning signs" may give clues to whether a person may be having a seizure and can help your health care provider offer other treatments or medical tests.

It's important to clarify a few definitions first...

Seizures can be simply understood as too much electrical activity in the brain. Typically, this happens suddenly and can cause symptoms, such as a change in behavior. Seizures may be related to a brain injury or a family tendency, but most seizures occur for no known reason (causes of seizures). There are different types of seizures and what occurs during an event will depend on the area of brain involved.

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the nervous system. It simply means that a person has a risk for seizures to happen unexpectedly. The term “seizure disorder” is often used to mean the same thing. Epilepsy can be diagnosed after a person has had two or more seizures that are not provoked (caused by a specific medical illness) or, if after medical testing, it is felt there is a high chance that another seizure will happen unexpectedly. Again, while epilepsy can be related to some sort of injury to the brain or family tendencies, the majority of times, there is no known cause of epilepsy.

It should be noted that seizures can happen as a result of other issues, such as during the course of another medical illness or related to medications and other substances. This does not always mean that this person has epilepsy. This is typically only determined after talking with your health care provider.

Understanding the type of seizures you have and the type of epilepsy you have can allow you to have more detailed discussions with your health care providers on how best to treat you.

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Authored by: by Matthew Hoerth MD | Seizure Emergency Editor on 3/2017