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What is epilepsy?

One of the most common neurological disorder that affects people of all ages is epilepsy. This chronic disorder affects the brain and is hallmarked by recurrent unpredictable seizures; a sudden rush of chemical and electrical activity in the brain. These random disturbances cause the neurons in the brain to fire rapidly and abnormally thus causing seizures.

While the main characteristic of epilepsy is having seizures, this does not mean that once you experience a seizure you are automatically epileptic. Anyone can fall victim to a one-off seizure, this does not necessarily mean that they are epileptic. One is identified as epileptic if they’ve had more than one seizure in the span of 24 hours and tests done by doctors indicate that the individual is prone to more epileptic episodes.  As per the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS), close to 2.3 million adults and approximately 450,000 adolescents and children in the United States are epileptic.

Individuals affected by epilepsy are likely to experience more than one type of seizure. The most common type of seizure that comes to mind is the one that presents itself as loss of consciousness and eratic muscle spasms. The other less common type of seizure is the sudden burst of inappropriate emotions, behaviors or sensations. Depending on what part of the brain has been affected, the epileptic episodes can take various forms.

The International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) recently released new epileptic diagnostic guidelines that identify the main types of seizures.

Focal (Partial) Seizures

Close to 60% of individuals suffering from epilepsy experience focal seizures.  These types of seizures are localization-related due to the fact that they come as a result of abnormal activity in just one part of the brain. Partial seizures fall into two categories:

Focal aware seizure (Simple Partial): Individuals go through the motions of these seizures while retaining their consciousness. They may be frozen or unable to respond, but they are aware of what is happening around them and can recall the episode afterward. More often than not, a focal aware seizure forebodes a more severe seizure in the horizon. Typically, these seizures last from a few seconds to a couple of seconds, but afterward, the affected individual is usually able to walk it off.

Focal impaired awareness seizure (Complex Partial): These seizures involve a loss consciousness and awareness. During this type of epileptic seizure, the individual could be performing simple body movements like smacking their lips or walking but they are in “zombie-mode” when doing. It may seem like they are just daydreaming but really, they are stuck in a deep trance.

Generalized Seizures

The six seizures identified in this category appear to affect all hemispheres of the brain and present themselves in both movement (motor) and the absence of movement (non-motor).

Absence seizures (Petit Mal Seizures): These cluster occurring seizures are mostly seen in children. This type of seizure sort of puts the individual in a trance where they remain still staring into space and making minimal or zero body movements.

Tonic seizures: Tonic seizures make your muscles to stiffen causing you to abruptly fall to the ground. The muscles typically affected by this seizure are those in your back, legs, and arms.

Atonic seizures (Drop Seizures): When experiencing this form of seizures, you lose all control of your muscles causing you to suddenly collapse to the ground.

Clonic seizures: Often associated with repetitive muscle jerks that typically affect the arms, neck, and face.

Myoclonic seizures: These seizures are a branch of clonic seizures that presents itself as brief but sudden twitches of your legs and arms

Tonic-clonic seizures (Grand Mal Seizures): These are the most dramatic seizures of the lot. Individuals are seen to lose consciousness, repeatedly shake while their body is stiff, and in extremes, some lose control of their bladder or bite their tongue.

Leading American Epilepsy Experts

Some of the well-revered epilepsy experts paving the way in America are:

Dr. M. Kanner, M.D. is a leading epileptic treatment expert. He is a Professor of Clinical Neurology, Head of the Epilepsy Section and Director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine, which he joined on January 1st, 2013. Prior to coming to Miami, he was director of the Laboratory of Electroencephalography and Video-EEG-Telemetry, Associate Director of the Section of Epilepsy and of the Rush Epilepsy Center and Professor of Neurological Sciences and Psychiatry at Rush Medical College of Rush University in Chicago, IL.

Theodore H. Schwartz, M.D., specializes in the surgical treatment of epilepsy, brain tumors, and pituitary tumors using the latest techniques in computer-guided surgical navigation, minimally invasive endoscopy, and microsurgery. Dr. Schwartz has been named to the lists of New York’s Super Doctors, Best Doctors in New York magazine, America’s Top Surgeons, America’s Best Doctors, and America’s Best Doctors for Cancer.

Dr. Jeffrey Greenfield is a pediatric neurosurgeon specializing in epilepsy and the brain mapping required before the surgery.

Kenneth Perrine, Ph.D., is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist with 30 years of experience; he sees patients for pre-surgical evaluations prior to surgery for epilepsy and other disorders to determine the presence, breadth, and extent of cerebral dysfunction for treatment planning. Dr. Perrine also specializes in neuropsychological testing in professional athletes and other individuals with suspected or diagnosed traumatic brain injury.

Caitlin Hoffman, M.D., is a board-certified neurosurgeon who specializes in adult and pediatric epilepsy surgery. She has completed fellowship training in pediatric neurosurgery with a focus on surgical epilepsy. Dr. Hoffman is a member of the Weill Cornell Laser Surgery Program and is specially trained in new laser surgery techniques for epilepsy.

Research Supporting the Use of CBD Cannabidiol to Treat Epilepsy

In 2017, a study titled, “Therapeutic effects of cannabinoids in animal models of seizures, epilepsy, epileptogenesis, and epilepsy-related neuroprotection”, was performed on rodents, and showed that the endocannabinoid system plays a primary role in the mammalian brain’s internal defense response to neural seizure activity.

When compared to other parts of our body, the central nervous system has a much larger number of cannabinoid receptors, and as science still doesn’t fully understand how exactly cannabinoids create their anti-seizure effects, there are several solid hypotheses. In medial temporal lobe epilepsy, which is one of the most frequent forms of this disorder, the hippocampus (part of the brain in charge of the emotions and memory encryption) suffers unwanted changes, and the abnormally active neurons of the hippocampus create an excitatory electric loop, directly causing epileptic seizures.

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