What causes epilepsy, and how is it treated?

causes_of_epilepsyEpilepsy is considered a neurological disorder that creates a disruption in the brain’s nerve cell activity. This condition has been described as the “occurrence of sporadic electrical storms in the brain.” These storms are more commonly known as seizures.

When your doctor diagnoses epilepsy, he or she may use one of the following terms to describe your condition:

  • Idiopathic. This means there is no obvious cause for the disease.
  • Cryptogenic. This means your condition likely has a cause, but isn't identified.
  • Symptomatic. This means the doctor has identified a cause.
  • Generalized. This means your seizures involve the whole brain at the same time.
  • Focal or partial. This means your seizures start from one specific area of the brain.

You may be eligible for Social Security (SS) disability benefits if your epilepsy is disabling and makes it impossible for you to work. Because epilepsy can be controlled with medication, you’ll need to prove that you’ve taken anticonvulsant medications as prescribed for at least three months, but your condition continues to interfere with your daily activities. To get help with a disability claim, you may want to hire a SS disability lawyer who understands the complex nature of the application process.

What Causes Epilepsy?

In about 50 percent of people who suffer from epilepsy, there isn't an identifiable cause. In others, however, various factors may contribute to the condition, including:

  • Genetics. Researchers have found there can be a genetic influence that causes this condition. They've linked some types of epilepsy to specific genes, and this condition may run in families. Some researchers believe genetics play the greatest part in a person developing epilepsy.
  • Traumatic head injury. Trauma to the head due to a serious injury or car accident can cause epilepsy.
  • Brain conditions. Brain tumors and strokes can cause epilepsy. Stroke is the number one cause of epilepsy in patients over 35.
  • Diseases. Epilepsy can be caused by infectious diseases such as meningitis, AIDS, and viral encephalitis.
  • Prenatal injuries. Epilepsy or cerebral palsy can occur if a fetus doesn’t get enough oxygen in the womb, has poor nutrition, or the mother has an infection. This can cause brain damage in the unborn child.

How Is Epilepsy Treated?

Most epileptic seizures are controlled with anticonvulsant medications. A doctor prescribes treatment based on a number of factors, including the patient’s age, general health, medical history, and the frequency and severity of the seizures. Because there are different types of epilepsy, it’s important for a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis in order to choose the appropriate treatment.

There are many available drugs that doctors can use to treat epilepsy. However, many doctors are reluctant to use a generic drug for this condition. Most prefer to prescribe brand-name anti-convulsants, but the high cost of these drugs may not always be covered by insurance. As a consequence, patients must sometimes start with a generic anticonvulsant medication, but if their seizures aren't adequately controlled, they often have to switch to a brand-name drug.

Initial treatment, also known as first-line therapy, for general tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures often include:

  • Depakene, Depakote
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • Topiramate (Topamax)

For patients who suffer from partial seizures, first-line medications often include:

  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • Phenytoin (Dilantin)
  • Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)

What Are the Side Effects of These Drugs?

Seizure medications work in the body’s central nervous system, so most of these drugs cause epileptic patients to feel dizzy or drowsy, especially when they first start taking them. Additionally, many anticonvulsant medications can bring on or worsen depression and cause patients to have suicidal thoughts or actions.

Here's a short list of other potential side effects that patients can experience depending on the type of drug they’re taking:

  • Increased risk for developing glaucoma
  • Inability to concentrate effectively  
  • Temporary loss of hair (or thinning)
  • Weight gain
  • Liver toxicity
  • Birth defects
  • Pancreatitis
  • Serious rash
  • Stomach problems
  • Problems sleeping
  • Headache and flu-like symptoms
  • Serious blood disorders

We Can Help

If you’re an adult suffering from epilepsy and you're unable to work, you may qualify for SS benefits. To get help with the financial support you need, contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We handle SS disability claims for clients who need help with their applications or the appeals process if their claim was denied. Call us at (402) 933-5405 or fill out our online form today.

 

Timothy J. Cuddigan
Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience