a disorder of brain function characterized by recurrent seizures that have a sudden onset. The term idiopathic is used to describe epilepsy that is not associated with structural damage to the brain. Seizures may be generalized or partial. Generalized epilepsy may take the form of tonic-clonic or absence seizures. In tonic-clonic (or major) seizures (formerly called grand mal), the patient falls to the ground unconscious with the muscles in a state of spasm. The lack of any respiratory movement may result in a bluish discoloration of the skin and lips (cyanosis). This – the tonic phase – is replaced by convulsive movements (the clonic phase) when the tongue may be bitten and urinary incontinence may occur. Movements gradually cease and the patient may rouse in a state of confusion, complaining of headache, or may fall asleep. Absence seizures (formerly called petit mal in children) consist of brief spells of unconsciousness lasting for a few seconds, during which posture and balance are maintained. The eyes stare blankly and there may be fluttering movements of the lids and momentary twitching of the fingers and mouth. The electroencephalogram characteristically shows bisynchronous spike and wave discharges (3 per second) during the seizures and at other times. Attacks are sometimes provoked by overbreathing or intermittent photic stimulation. As the stream of thought is completely interrupted, children with frequent seizures may have learning difficulties. This form of epilepsy seldom appears before the age of three or after adolescence. It often subsides spontaneously in adult life, but it may be followed by the onset of major or partial epilepsy.
In partial (or focal) seizures, the nature of the seizure depends upon the location of the damage in the brain. For example, a simple partial motor seizure consists of convulsive movements that might spread from the thumb to the hand, arm, and face (this spread of symptoms is called the Jacksonian march). Complex partial seizures are commonly caused by damage to the cortex of the temporal lobe or the adjacent parietal lobe of the brain: this form of epilepsy is often called temporal lobe (or psychomotor) epilepsy. Symptoms may include hallucinations of smell, taste, sight, and hearing, paroxysmal disorders of memory, and automatism. Throughout an attack the patient is in a state of clouded awareness and afterwards may have no recollection of the event (see also déjà vu, jamais vu). A number of these symptoms are due to scarring and atrophy (mesial temporal sclerosis) affecting the temporal lobe.
The different forms of epilepsy can be controlled by the use of antiepileptic drugs (see anticonvulsant). Surgical resection of focal epileptogenic lesions in the brain is appropriate in a strictly limited number of cases.
epileptic adj., n.

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  • epilepsy — [ep′ə lep΄sē] n. [OFr epilepsie < LL epilepsia < Gr epilēpsia, epilēpsis, lit., a seizure, hence epilepsy < epilambanein, to seize upon < epi , upon + lambanein, to seize: see LATCH] a recurrent disorder of the nervous system,… …   English World dictionary

  • Epilepsy — Ep i*lep sy, n. [L. epilepsia, Gr. ? a seizure, the falling sickness, fr. ? to take besides, seize, attack; epi upon, besides + ? to take: cf. F. [ e]pilepsie. Cf. {Catalepsy}.] (Med.) The falling sickness, so called because the patient falls… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • epilepsy — (n.) 1570s, from M.Fr. epilepsie (16c.), from L.L. epilepsia, from Gk. epilepsia seizure, from epi upon (see EPI (Cf. epi )) + lepsis seizure, from leps , future stem of lambanein take hold of, grasp (see ANALEMMA (Cf …   Etymology dictionary

  • epilepsy — ► NOUN ▪ a disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions. DERIVATIVES epileptic adjective & noun. ORIGIN Greek epil psia, from epilambanein seize, attack …   English terms dictionary

  • Epilepsy — Epileptic redirects here. For the graphic novel, see Epileptic (graphic novel). Epilepsia redirects here. For the journal, see Epilepsia (journal). Epilepsy Classification and external resources Generalized 3 Hz spike and wave discharges in EEG …   Wikipedia

  • epilepsy — Synonyms and related words: Jacksonian epilepsy, MS, Rolandic epilepsy, abdominal epilepsy, access, acquired epilepsy, activated epilepsy, affect epilepsy, akinetic epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, apoplexy, arrest, attack, autonomic… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • Epilepsy —    Called the falling sickness, epilepsy was once seen primarily as a psychiatric illness, one of William Cullen’s neuroses. Seizure patients who also had psychiatric symptoms often landed in asylums and were included in psychiatric textbooks.… …   Historical dictionary of Psychiatry

  • Epilepsy — (seizure disorder): When nerve cells in the brain fire electrical impulses at a rate of up to four times higher than normal, this causes a sort of electrical storm in the brain, known as a seizure. A pattern of repeated seizures is referred to as …   Medical dictionary

  • epilepsy — /ep euh lep see/, n. Pathol. a disorder of the nervous system, characterized either by mild, episodic loss of attention or sleepiness (petit mal) or by severe convulsions with loss of consciousness (grand mal). [1570 80; < LL epilepsia < Gk… …   Universalium

  • epilepsy — n. to have epilepsy * * * [ epɪlepsɪ] to have epilepsy …   Combinatory dictionary

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