Just as there is more than one type of seizure, there's more than one type of epilepsy. Doctors determine which kind a person has by looking at the patient's age and the types of seizures suffered, as well as diagnostic tests (which we'll talk about in the next section). But first, let's review some of the most common forms of epilepsy.
- Benign rolandic epilepsy is a form of childhood epilepsy that is usually outgrown by adolescence. This condition is marked by nighttime seizures that involve twitching, numbness or tingling, but sometimes, larger tonic-clonic seizures may occur as well.
- While juvenile myoclonic epilepsy may manifest itself near the time of puberty, it's usually a lifelong condition -- unlike benign rolandic epilepsy. As the name implies, myoclonic seizures define this condition, though tonic-clonic or absence seizures are also possible.
- Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy that involves several types of seizures as well as mental disability. Unlike some other childhood epilepsies, this one is typically present for life.
- Reflex epilepsy occurs when seizures are triggered by specific environmental triggers. These may include flashing lights, startling noises, certain music, certain movements, or being touched on certain parts of the body.
- In temporal lobe epilepsy, complex focal seizures are the most common seizure type, though simple focal seizures and tonic-clonic seizures are also common. Seizures that occur as part of temporal lobe epilepsy are frequently described by just how hard they are to describe. The temporal lobe controls emotion and memory, so seizures often distort these two things. People with temporal lobe epilepsy describe foreign emotions, a deluge of old memories flooding back or hallucinations.
- Frontal lobe epilepsy involves disturbances in motor and behavioral centers in the brain. People with this type of epilepsy are more likely to have jerking or stiffness on one side of the body.
Epilepsy can begin at any age, but it's most common in young children and the elderly. About half of all epilepsy patients are children [source: Baruchin]. The disorder is common in older people because of other neurological conditions such as stroke or dementia. People older than age 75 are at the greatest risk of developing epilepsy [source: Wilner].
So what causes epilepsy? In some cases, it's a brain injury, such as a tumor, a stroke or a blow to the head. When doctors can determine this cause, it's considered symptomatic epilepsy. In some instances, epilepsy is inherited, and certain genes are to blame; so far, scientists have found more than 200 gene abnormalities associated with epilepsy [source: Wilner]. But in a large number of cases, doctors simply don't know why the patient begins suffering seizures. When doctors don't know what causes the seizures, the patient has idiopathic epilepsy. Cryptogenic epilepsy is the term for cases in which doctors don't have enough information to decide if the case is symptomatic or idiopathic; in this instance, doctors may have a hunch that can't be substantiated.
While there may be many unknowns in what causes epilepsy, doctors do have a wide range of tools to aid in the diagnosis of epilepsy. Read on to find out what they are.