This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 202
2004 First Web Paper
On Serendip

The Relationship Between Epilepsy and the Brain

Chevon Deputy

Uncontrollable shaking, tongue biting, and eyes rolling have frequently been associated with demonic spirits. In the film "The Exorcist" the little girl displayed these actions and they are labeled as demonic. Unfortunately, the labeling of such actions was not just a notion of films but also in the medical field. For example, epileptic patients were characterized as being possessed, because they exhibited such behavior and it was unexplainable. As more information was gathered about the relationship between the brain and these episodes, this notion began to disappear. Since my mother has been an epileptic patient for quite some time, it is important to understand the brain's role in her recurring seizures.

Since the neurons communicate with one another by firing tiny electrical signals that pass from cell to cell, the firing pattern of these electrical signals reflects how busy the brain is at any moment, and the location of the signals indicates what the brain is doing, such as thinking, seeing, seeing, feeling, hearing, and controlling the movement of muscles."(1) Epilepsy is a brain disorder that occurs when the electrical signals in the brain are disrupted.(1) Disturbance occurs when the firing pattern of the brain's electrical signals become abnormal and intense, either in an isolated area of the brain or throughout the brain. (2) More specifically, epilepsy is a condition that involves having repetitive seizures. (2)Two or more seizures must occur before a person can be diagnosed as having epilepsy.(3)

One of the most serious types of seizures is Grand Mal Seizures (Generalized Seizures). This particular type of seizure occurs when changes in the electrical signals spread through the entire brain at once.(1) Once the entire brain is affected, there can be a loss of consciousness and shaking of all limbs.(1) According to Scott, an epileptic attack can be divided into three parts: the warning, actual fit, and the recovery.(4) When my mother experiences an attack, there is usually no warning. It seems that she goes immediately into the attack. Air is forced through the larynx and the cry that is produced indicates that the attack has begun and not that the person is in pain. (4) The gagging sound does seem that the person is in pain, because it is difficult to breath. The reason that breathing has ceased is because no oxygen is entering the lungs. (4) Not only is there no oxygen getting to the lungs but also the brain. During an epileptic fit, oxygen consumption of the brain may be increased up to fifty percent. (4) In order to function normally the nervous system requires vitamins and oxygen, which are carried to the brain.(4) Therefore, if a person has numerous seizures a serious problem can arise because there is little oxygen getting to the brain.

The tonic phase leads into the clonic stage. Many things occur in this stage such as loss of bowel or bladder control. This is due to the violent contractions of the body. Epileptic patients are unable to control their movement because of the change in location of the signals that communicates with the brain. It is not unusual for one to become unconscious or fall into a deep sleep from a few minutes to several hours.(4) After a seizure, the person rarely has memory of it.

In most cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown. The term used is idiopathic, because there is no definite abnormality of the brain. My mother's grand mal seizures are characterized as idiopathic, because she did not experience any short term or lasting scarring or damage to the brain from head injury or serious brain infections. The electro-encephalogram (EEG) is a test that records the electrical activity of the brain.(4) This test is helpful in diagnosing epileptic patients because it reveals the unusual brain activity. The EEG is sometimes used to determine the nature of the abnormality causing the seizures. (3) Those with epilepsy have brain cells, which have disordered electrical functions and this leads to a seizure. An epileptic patient's brain cells are less able to suppress electrical discharges. Although the cause of many epileptic episodes are unknown, there are things which triggers seizures such as stress, lack of sleep, starvation, and flashing lights. (1)

In order to control seizures, many patients are prescribed some type of medication. The type of prescription one receives depends on the type of seizure. For major attacks such as grand mal seizures, phenobarbitone and dilantin are widely used by epileptic patients. There are, of course, side effects to these medications. Drowsiness and skin rashes are the most common.(4) The purpose of the medication is to control the number of seizures. However in my mother's case, she constantly has to keep switching medications, because she frequently has grand mal seizures. First, she was on phenobarbitone, but that did not seem to work so now she takes dilantin. The frequency in seizures can be the result of the triggers and not necessarily the medication.

Epilepsy is the second most common neurological disease in the United States, affecting approximately two million people.(2) More importantly, each year 125,000 to 150,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy.(2) Serious cases of epilepsy prohibit certain activities such as driving. Employment is sometimes difficult for epileptic patients to find, because employers feel that the patients are liable to accidents and will more likely to take time off of work. (3) Epilepsy is a serious disorder that not only affects the brain but also limits the activity one can perform. When people watch "The Exorcist," it stirs up a lot of eerie feelings. Imagine living with a disorder that prevents you from controlling your actions. Which is scarier watching it or living with it?

WWW Sources
1)Trileptal Home Page, A Good Web Source

2)MayoClinic Home Page, A Good Web

3)Aetna Intelihealth Home Page, A Good Web

4)Scott, Donald. About Epilepsy. New York: International University Press, Inc., 1973

Course Home Page | Course Forum | Brain and Behavior | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:53:06 CDT