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Epilepsy (sometimes referred to as a seizure disorder) is a disorder in which neurons in the brain signal abnormally. It can result in convulsions, sensory disturbances, or losses of consciousness. Epilepsy is not contagious, nor is it caused by mental illness or mental retardation.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain sometimes signal abnormally. Neurons normally generate electrochemical impulses that act on other neurons, glands, and muscles to produce human thoughts, feelings, and actions.
In epilepsy, the normal pattern of neuronal activity becomes disturbed, causing strange sensations, emotions, and behavior, or sometimes convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness known as epileptic seizures. The condition is, therefore, sometimes referred to as a seizure disorder. It affects people in all nations and of all races.
During a seizure, neurons may fire as many as 500 times a second, much faster than the normal rate of about 80 times a second. In some people, this happens only occasionally; for others, it may happen up to hundreds of times a day.
Epilepsy was one of the first brain disorders to be described. It was mentioned in ancient Babylon more than 3,000 years ago. The strange behavior caused by some seizures has contributed through the ages to many superstitions and prejudices. The word epilepsy is derived from the Greek word for "attack." People once thought that those with epilepsy were being visited by demons or gods. However, in 400 B.C., the early physician Hippocrates suggested that it was a disorder of the brain -- and we now know that he was right.
What Causes It?Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity -- such as illness, brain damage, or abnormal brain development -- can lead to seizures. It may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, or some combination of these factors.
It is not contagious, and is not caused by mental illness or mental retardation.