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Health Team

Some Seizures Can Signal Epilepsy

Posted August 2, 2007 11:15 a.m. EDT
Updated August 2, 2007 7:30 p.m. EDT

WRAL Health Team

— U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' recent seizure shines a light on a common but misunderstood condition – epilepsy. Health experts said the seizures can strike suddenly, but they can be managed.

"Most seizures do occur in the frontal lobe," said Dr. Isabelle Germano, a neurologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York.

Germano said she can see signs of seizures in brain scans. They show up as jagged lines, then smooth ones followed by jagged lines. During a seizure, brain activity goes from normal into erratic spiking as the electrical signals spread across your brain, which can trigger a response in the body.

"Movement of the arms and or the legs and saliva coming out of the mouth, eyes rolling – those are typical signs of a seizure," Germano said.

Germano said one seizure is not necessarily a sign of epilepsy, but two or more may be a sign unless there is a known factor including fever, stroke or tumor.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, a cause for seizures is never identified in seven out of 10 people. The organization said between 5 percent and 10 percent of people will have one seizure during their lifetimes and, of those, 30 percent will develop epilepsy.

Seizures may not be deadly or very damaging, but repeated ones can affect the brain. Most can be managed with medicine.

"There are a lot of very well-known people including actors, CEOs, artists that take those medications and function perfectly well," Germano said.

Health experts said 40 million people worldwide have epilepsy.